Tories hire Obama campaign chief Jim Messina

Jim Messina and President Obama A fellow presidential aide described Jim Messina as "the most powerful person in Washington you've never heard of"

The Conservative Party has hired Barack Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina for its general election campaign team, BBC Newsnight has learned.

Sources confirmed that he would act as a campaign strategy adviser to the Conservative party.

A lifelong Democrat, Mr Messina masterminded the US president's successful 2012 re-election campaign.

The political parties in Westminster are readying themselves for the general election, now under two years away.

Lynton Crosby The Conservatives hired Australian strategist Lynton Crosby, known as the Wizard of Oz, in November

The Conservative Party hired Australian strategist Lynton Crosby in November.

The Tories are hoping to emulate Mr Obama's re-election against a backdrop of economic problems. Many other governments that have sought re-election during economic turbulence have been punished by voters at the ballot box.

The Conservatives are also thought to hope that Mr Messina will bring to their operation the same binding marriage of social media and political organisation that many in the US credit with securing Mr Obama a second term.

Start Quote

I have long admired Prime Minister Cameron. While I will not be moving to London, nor will I be managing any type of day to day political operations, I will be offering strategic campaign advice leading up to 2015”

End Quote Jim Messina

Mr Crosby is said to admit privately that this area is not his strength.

Mr Messina will not lead the campaign as he did in the US, sources said, but instead will be "reporting in to the Conservatives' senior management team", and remain based in the US.

He will report directly to Mr Crosby and Conservative Party co-chairmen Grant Shapps and Lord Feldman. Conservative sources stressed he would have no involvement in party policy.

Speaking of his appointment, Mr Messina told Newsnight:

"I have long admired Prime Minister Cameron. While I will not be moving to London, nor will I be managing any type of day to day political operations, I will be offering strategic campaign advice leading up to 2015."

The Conservative leadership will have to work hard to ensure their 2015 campaign does not fall victim to the same issues as the 2010 general election strategy, when, observers believe, there was a problem with too many important voices at the top of the campaign, including Steve Hilton, George Osborne and Andy Coulson.

Leading thinkers

Having worked for Democrat senators and Congress representatives, Mr Messina became Mr Obama's deputy chief of staff in 2008. At that time another of the president's advisers, Dan Pfeiffer, described Mr Messina as "the most powerful person in Washington you've never heard of".

In 2011 Mr Obama asked him to leave his job at the White House and decamp to Chicago to head up his re-election strategy there.

President Obama and advisers in situation room Mr Messina became Mr Obama's deputy chief of staff in 2008 before leaving to oversee his re-election campaign

Before he began he canvassed the opinion of some of America's leading CEOs and cutting edge thinkers: Google's Eric Schmidt advised him on managing the information and resources of a billion-dollar re-election team; Apple's Steve Jobs spoke to him about increasing message reach; Steven Spielberg about how to capture the attention of the American public; Vogue's Anna Wintour gave him tips on Obama-themed merchandise.

Alongside these conversations Mr Messina is also said to have read up on 100 years' worth of campaign histories.

His central insight for the Obama 2012 project was that the campaign would be very different from the 2008 campaign, which was characterised by upbeat feel-good messages. This time round it would require meticulous gathering and monitoring of voter information.

The 2012 campaign spent greater time and resources highlighting the negative qualities of Mr Obama's Republican rival for the presidency, Mitt Romney, and it placed a huge emphasis on the exploitation of technology.

Headache for Labour

In January 2013, Mr Messina began a new post-election role as the head of Organizing for America, the new identity of the Obama for America database which he had run during the 2012 election campaign. The organisation is devoted to mobilising support for legislation in Obama's second term.

There are already established links between UK Prime Minister David Cameron's team and Mr Obama's Democrats.

Barack Obama and David Cameron In 2012 Mr Cameron visited the US in a trip widely seen as an endorsement of Mr Obama

In the run-up to the TV debates of the 2010 UK general election campaign, the Tories brought Obama adviser Anita Dunne over to advise Mr Cameron on how to handle the debates, which are a familiar feature of US presidential races.

Then, in the year of the presidential election, Mr Cameron flew to the US in a trip interpreted by many as an endorsement of Mr Obama. Mr Cameron travelled with Mr Obama to watch a college basketball match in the crucial swing state of Ohio, and heavily praised the US president in his state dinner speech.

As deputy chief of staff to Mr Obama, Mr Messina helped get Congress to its 2010 vote paving the way for gay people in the military. In the UK, Mr Cameron faced deep hostility in his own party, in the Church and across the country for driving through legislation to allow gay marriage.

The appointment of Mr Messina is likely to worry Labour leader Ed Miliband, who so far has put in place markedly less of his general election campaign and is privately being urged to make progress.

Mr Miliband might have hoped to secure a big Obama hire for his own efforts.

For more on this watch Allegra Stratton's report on BBC Newsnight on Friday 2 August at 10.30pm on BBC Two, then afterwards on the BBC iPlayer and Newsnight website.

Allegra Stratton, Political editor, Newsnight Article written by Allegra Stratton Allegra Stratton Political editor, BBC Newsnight


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  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    The Conservatives and coalition government have made the UK people significantly worse off and demonstrated an alarming tendency to make wrong decisions. No matter what spin these experts (so called) place on their record the people of the UK will not be fooled. All the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats can hope is for all other parties to prove themselves equally or more inept.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    First we have an Aussie making the Cons look like the second coming of the Third Reich, how will this new guy fall into line with him then after all he comes from the land of the free and the home of the brave where all nationalities have been welcomed. Or is it going to be peerages galore for the Yankee's when money pours into Tory coffers.Will nobody free us from these foreigners ruling over GB

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    You can't polish a t..ory

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Just demonstrates everything thats wrong about modern politics.

    The Tories (I'm sure the other parties do it too) do not have the courage of their convictions or the belief to present their own policies to the public so they hire an outsider, to polish & present those policies for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I've wondered what Barry (husband of Glenda, son-in-law of Edie) from Last of the Summer Wine went on to become.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Ed Miliband probally spends an hour each day analysing what socks to wear. A decent enough man but an absolutely atrocious public speaker and politician, he always looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights. I despair that this government will probally get re-elected on the back of Miliband's ineptitude rather than their damaging policies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    9. hellblazer -Well said, and to those who bleet on about the vote being fought for by our relatives im pretty sure that they would be spinning in their graves to see how their sacrifice has been hijacked in the name of "Democracy". All 3 parties are nothing more than escort services paid for by the highest bidder. No none of the above option?, simply bin your vote and be the apathetic majority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    If the tories are this worried, given a generally friendly UK media who allow them to set the agenda, then that's pretty telling.

    The thing which will be DC's undoing, and EM's making is simple: events.

    Most of us foresee ones which will not favour the former.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    They've hired an American and an Australian. Aren't they always banging on about using British products?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    So he's moving from 'Yes we can!' to 'A big Labour Government did it and ran away!'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    I look forward to the "I'm David and I endorse this message." ads!

    American politics is corrupt and candidates openly do the bidding of whoever pays them the most.


  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Is anyone surprised by this?..A lot of people seem to be under the impression that for at least the last few decades, everytime the US administration say 'ok UK jump!' the administration here just says, 'ok how high?'..Can everyone be wrong in their view of that?..I don't think so!..The UK has been slowly 'Americanised' over a long time & because of that there'll be little critisism of this move.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Desperate times call for desperate measure it seems.

    This wont work for the following reasons:

    1 - Its David Cameron
    2 - The people have spoken, this man from DC wont save you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I thought all the opposition parties were doing the election campaign for them, just by being unelectable, void of any real ideas, and having zero credibility on the economy, welfare, immigration, tax-avoiders, housing, infrastructure, investment, research & development, and so on.


  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Quite a compliment for EM and Labour, really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Whatever they do it will bring criticism. Lose, lose situation. Brought on by a greedy, materialistic nation that demands money in their own pockets over the state of the economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Well its all in line with the governments strategy of spying on its public. Obama has this one well and truly in full flow, and now its time for us be manipulated into thinking its for the benefit of our nation to lose freedoms. This is where this guy comes in, he could convince somemone a cup of tea was a glass of cola.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Is there really no British person capable of handling such a 'mission impossible' task of making the Tory party look good for the general election? Of course not. Who, though, in their right mind would want to do it and stay resident in the UK? Hence...

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Whoever votes for the LibLabCon ie the current political elite are naive. They don't represent us and this has been demonstrated time and time again. How many more times does the public need to be shafted to finally realise that these people serve only themselves. I don't care who you vote for, just don't vote for the LibLabCon!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    The funny thing about America is that there 'left' is actually closer to the 'right' in the UK.
    Doesn't surprise me one bit that someone who helped Obama get up has identified that he can help Cameron get re-elected too.


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