This is a sometimes 'cheesey' blog about British and American politics and anything else which tickles my fancy!

Sunday, 29 June 2008

A Comms Strategy for Tesco

It’s been another bad week for Tesco.

It has been attacked by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for the quality of its chickens. It has been accused of exploiting workers in India and for importing vegetables from Zimbabwe and to top it all off Barack Obama, soon to be the most powerful man in the world, has questioned Tesco’s union practices in the US.

Bad news. Bad week. Bad PR.

If I was Sir. Terry Leahy I would be worried.

It shouldn’t be like this. Tesco is the most dazzling corporate success story of the last twenty years. A good example of a great British company.

We all know its slogan.

It offers choice and value.

In 2005, The Economist reckoned it has “Become big by being like Britain.”

But, as I see it, Tesco has three main weaknesses. All connected.

First, it is seen as a corporate giant – gobbling up the little guy and blighting communities. Recently, even a councillor in Norfolk was elected on an anti-Tesco platform and there is now a Tescopoly Alliance on the Internet. Criticism of Tesco is clearly resonating.

Secondly, consumers are becoming greener and Tesco is lagging behind.

Finally, Tesco is seen as unethical. Veg from Zimbabwe, textile manufacturing in India and the £1.99 factory-farmed chickens give the impression of being irresponsible, uncaring and unethical.

Tesco needs to look at the way it runs its business. But a communications strategy can also be developed which I believe would help the company out of its current hole.

First, it needs to go local: video blogs with local shoppers in every store, high quality newsletters in every store, a local database of customers that can be reached instantly and banners and displays of local community groups in every store.

Second, Tesco is not green enough. In fact, it is now trailing behind Marks and Spencer. But it was the first to do something about binge-drinking, by restricting supply, next week it can be the first to do something about carbon labelling. Better to do it sooner and lead the way.

Third, advocacy. Tesco needs to find ways to bypass the mainstream media and directly reach customers. Emails, blogs, direct on-line marketing can all help with this. It should set up an on-line platform or blog linked to every local store. It would give people an opportunity to interact and engage and importantly, build up a network of Tesco advocates.

Of course, good communications are no substitute for actually improving your business practices. Tesco needs to change its stance on chickens. It needs to rethink its policy on Zimbabwe and it needs to take a fresh look at its work practices in India. It also needs to get a grip on its failing American business. I don’t think Tesco really wants Barack Obama as an enemy.

But, a better communications strategy can help lead the way and in the end ‘every little helps.’

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Obama's Men, Obama's Strategy

Who are Obama's men?

So far, little attention has been paid to the political strategists responsible for Obama's victory over Clinton and his continuing appeal amongst voters.

The men closest to Barack Obama are political insiders who have spent a lifetime getting Democrats elected. One of them was even a close friend of Hillary Clinton. They are David Axelrod, David Plouffe and Steve Hildebrand. Every week, like millions of other Obama supporters, I receive an email from at least one of them. This week David Plouffe, Obama's Campaign Manager, emailed outlining the strategy for winning.

One of the things I love about the Obama campaign is that it treats voters like adults. Plouffe shared polling information and was explicit about the strategy for defeating McCain. The trust in sharing information makes supporters feel included - like they have a stake in the campaign - and this can only be a good thing for generating enthusiasm and organisation.

So what is the strategy?

Well, the Obama campaign asked voters in a poll, "Are you enthusiastic about the election?" 61% of Democrats said they were, while 35% of Republicans answered positively. Democrats feel the elections is theirs to lose.The campaign surely has to be about tapping into this enthusiasm and doing what is most important - getting out the vote.

Obama's message of change, his generational appeal and his coalition of African-Americans, the young and the educated middle-classes provides a bedrock of support which he must build on. The campaign can not be complacent.

As Plouffe reminded me, in 2004 Kerry won 253 election college votes. The magic number is 270. Obama must hold on to the states Kerry won and further his appeal. So what do Obama's men intend to do? There are four things:

1. Hold on the the states Kerry won and win Ohio.

2. Win the West. Obama has a real chance of picking up the extra electoral college votes by campaigning in states like Montana, Colorado and North Dakota where he is popular. The fact that these states are in play is a good sign. The Obama team will campaign aggressively in them.

3. Get organised. The Obama campaign has 1 million volunteers already signed up. They are a huge resource who can build up voter registration, make telephone calls and knock on doors. Grassroots organisation will place the Democrats in a much stronger position than the Republicans.

4. Fundraise. The McCain campaign has access to a $50 million Republican slush fund. The Obama campaign has promised not take money from lobbyists or Political Action Committees. Instead, it has 1.7 million donors from the primary campaign who have made, on average, donations of $100 dollars. The Obama campaign must tap into this donor database again if McCain is to be defeated.

This week, the campaign made a breakthrough in party unity with the rally in New Hampshire with Hillary Clinton. But, there is a long way to go.

I think that the main points of Plouffe's strategy are essentially sound. As they showed in the primary campaign, the Obama team are not political novices. They have determination, grit and are the best political strategists operating at the moment. If they manage to pull it off, not only will it to transform America, but it will transform the way politics is carried out too.

More Malaise and Misery

There was more misery for the Prime Minister this week.

No one expected Labour to win the Henley by-election but to slump to fifth place, behind the mad Greens and the vile BNP was a crushing blow for him and the Labour Party. Mr. Brown claimed "by-elections come and go" but perhaps he shouldn't be so sanguine. It's a sorry state of affairs when Labour falls behind the BNP - the first time that has ever happened to my knowledge.

The resignation of Wendy Alexander as Leader of Scottish Labour also puts further pressure on the PM. I liked Alexander a lot, but her resignation has had an air of inevitability about it for some time and her departure leaves a gaping hole in Labour's Scottish leadership.

A Guardian/ICM poll mid-week showed Labour lagging around 20% behind the Conservatives and I have just learnt that there is to be a by-election in Glasgow East. Expect Labour's majority of
13, 507 to evaporate overnight. A win for the SNP or the Liberals is not out of the question.

All in all it has been another bad, depressing, gloomy, pitiful week for the Labour Party.

If Brown has a good summer and comes out of conference stronger maybe just maybe things will turn around. But I am left wondering whether the point-of-no-return has already been reached and no matter what happens or what the PM does nothing can turn it around. In my heart of hearts I think this is the case.

By the way, I received my ballot paper through the post today for elections to the NEC. If anyone can tell me anything about any of the candidates I would be grateful. I have no idea who to vote for.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Brown needs to be more like Bartlet

Can President Bartlet teach Brown anything?

It is nearly a year since Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair as Leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister.

For the first three months of Brown's Premiership it felt like things did indeed get better. Brown seemed assured, wise and statesman-like as he dealt with terrorist attacks, floods and foot and mouth.

But then things quickly deteriorated.

The most recent YouGov poll puts Labour at 23 points and the Conservatives at 47 - a Tory lead of 24 points. Number Ten staff don't appear to know what to do, MPs are dejected and Labour Party activists are demoralised. A sense of hopelessness has crept through the Party.

Brown is so petrified of losing the next election that he is struck by inertia and caution.

This reminds me of an early episode of The West Wing (the fictional US drama about President Jed Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen).

In that drama, after a year in office, President Bartlet was languishing in the polls. He dropped 5 points in one week and his West Wing staff were fed up and rudderless. The President was blamed for always running to the centre and for being too cautious and indecisive. Character traits Brown is accused of.

In the TV programme, the solution was 'Let Bartlet Be Bartlet.' Let the President speak, raise the issues, do things he thought were right, not because an opinion poll or a focus group told him to.

In other words, to be authentic.

Authenticity is the most important character trait in politicians. Barack Obama and John McCain both have it in spades. Hillary Clinton lacked it spectacularly.

Brown needs to learn this. He has waited a lifetime to be Prime Minister and he has two years to make his mark before he has to call an election.

Over that time, he needs to steady the economy as it charters rocky waters but he also needs to be bold. Three or four big ideas would work. He should say what he thinks and do what he wants.

He should speak and be authentic.

This is a risky, high stakes strategy and it may well alienate some people but Brown still has it in him and I think its the only way he will be able to turn things around before the next election.

When Bartlet did this, he rose 10 points in two weeks.

Brown needs to remember why he entered politics in the first place and then just go for it without worrying about polling or political opportunism or 'triangulation.'

He is best when he is bold. He is best when he is himself.

We should 'let Brown be Brown.'

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Liverpool - boom or bust?

I have just returned from a visit to Liverpool where all my family come from and the city is booming.

For those southerners who might not know, Liverpool is officially ‘European Capital of Culture 2008’.

Building cranes crowd the skyline. The city centre is getting spruced up.

The Lib-Dem Council hopes 2008 will be the ‘rocket fuel’ for Liverpool’s economy, delivering more tourists and creating new jobs.

£2 billion has already been spent by private and public organisations regenerating the waterfront. Grosvenor Estates has completed a £920 million shopping complex – Liverpool One – in the heart of the city.

And investment in the Walker Art Gallery and the new Foundation for Arts and Creative Technology (FACT) help to tick all the right culture boxes.

The Department of Culture believes 2008 will be spectacular. Its website claims, “It will showcase the best of Britain’s cultural sector and leave a lasting legacy for the City of Liverpool and the whole of the UK.”

The Council insists 2008 will transform Liverpool’s economy and signal a fresh start for a city that was once synonymous with the word ‘decline’.

According to Mersey Partnerships (the quango set up to promote tourism in Liverpool) Capital of Culture will generate 1.7 million extra visits, £2 billion worth of investment and 14,000 new jobs.

Glasgow, the last UK city to hold the title in 1990, certainly seems to have benefited from the prize. 30,000 people are now employed in the leisure and tourism sector, which last year generated £700 million. £3 million went to local arts projects.

Liverpool hopes to copy Glasgow’s success.

Warren Bradley, the Council Leader, believes the Culture prize “has meant regeneration has been given a boost, putting Liverpool back on the map and putting back a sense of pride in (its) residents.”

But it will be an uphill struggle.

The Department for Communities and Local Government reckons Liverpool is still the most deprived place in the UK.

It has a job growth rate of 9%, above the 4% national average but with 60,000 people still unemployed. This is 15% of the city’s population, the equivalent of a match day crowd at Anfield.

In the city’s poorer wards like Speke or Kensington long-term unemployment is as high as 60%, with youth unemployment particularly bad.

“Its not that we aren’t proud Liverpool won. God know we deserve it…but what will culture do for people round here? These kids need training and jobs, not more museums,” says 74 year old pensioner Alice Ashley.

To its credit, the Council is trying. Its flagship “Creative Communities” programme hopes to regenerate local areas at a grass roots level through creativity and culture.

But not everyone is convinced.

Joe Anderson, the leader of the Labour opposition, is worried the year will be a missed opportunity.

“It will do nothing to address acute social divisions and unless we do things differently and stop being city centre focused it will just accelerate the existing patterns of inequality.”

He has a point. Although, Glasgow’s economy received a boost from the Culture year, many of Glasgow’s suburbs remain poor. Jobs were created but many of them were low-skilled and low-paid. The fear is the same could happen in Liverpool.

But people are beginning to realise that it will take more than a city centre revamp to tackle the long-term problems of unemployment and poverty.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The Pros of Polyclinics

Health Secretary Alan Johnson

The Government's plans for 150 new polyclinics to be built over the next few years should be pushed ahead regardless of opposition from GPs and the British Medical Association.

Polyclinics were first proposed by the Health Minister Lord Darzai last year. They are basically brand-spanking new health care centres which will offer a range of services to patients 12 hours a day, 7 days a week - more than most GPs offer now. In some cases they will be built with private sector co-operation.

The BMA claims that the government's new plans will mean an end to the established and trusted relationship between a GP and their patient. But, there is no reason why this should be the case. They are not designed as a replacement for GP surgeries, instead they are a compliment to them. Patients can still have the same relationship with their GP as they always have. Continuity of care will remain the same.

In addition, while polyclinics will be open longer and later, they will also be able to offer quick appointments and reduce waiting times for outpatient treatment that is currently done in hospital.

One of the biggest challenges the government faces is improving primary care treatment. We need to move away from the idea that the 'hospital' is the sole provider of health care services. Most patients who turn up at A&E could be treated elsewhere and waiting lists for outpatient treatment remain high. By improving primary care treatment we stop people who don't really need to go to hospital from ending up there, we free up services in hospitals so that they concentrate on the really serious stuff, we reduce hospital costs and we treat patients locally which is what most people want.

Polyclinics are just one new attempt to do this. They will provide a one-stop shop for a range of services - from simple blood tests to x-rays to other diagnostic and outpatient treatments, which will be more helpful to patients with long-term medical conditions.

It seems that the BMA has now teamed up with the Conservatives to oppose the measure. Their claim that the government wants to close 1,700 GP surgeries will resonate with voters unless the government gets its act together and make the case for these clinics. Health Secretary Alan Johnson should force the measure through and appeal to the public directly. It has a strong, convincing argument. It should also expose the vested interests of the BMA who only care about a reduction of their power.

Any battle between the government and doctors is bound to be controversial and difficult. Look at the government's current relationship with the Association of Police Officers. But there are some fights worth having. And if polyclinics can offer any sort of improvement to primary care treatment then they are at least worth a try.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Fight the Smears

Barack Obama's campaign team has set up its own website to fight the Internet rumours which have been swirling around the Senator in recent weeks.

Rumours about candidates are hardly new and the Internet is usually the medium with which they are promoted. For example, it was a website which broke the Monica Lewinsky scandal and in 2004 accusations about John Kerry's Vietnam war experience were circulated effectively across the Web.

But I think the Obama campaign's decision to set up an instant rapid rebuttal Internet unit - - marks the first time in an election that this has been used.

Although, it is probably going to generate some attention because it repeats what the rumours are, I think it shows the seriousness with which modern politicians are treating the Internet as a communications tool. It also makes sense to rebut accusations as soon as they materialise in order to stop them growing and feeding the more traditional print media. The Obama campaign was obviously worried they may have an effect further down the line too. However, it also proves how innovative the Obama campaign continues to be.

Incidentally, it was Andrew Jackson who first set up an instant rapid rebuttal unit in the General Election of 1828 to counter accusations by his opponents of bigamy and murder! Thank goodness, the rumours about Obama are not quite as bad as that.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

The Shame of 42-Days Detention

I disagree fundamentally with the Government's stance on 42-day detention and was very disappointed that Parliament voted last night to approve it.

It is unnecessary, unjustified and unforgivable. A crass example of playing politics with our civil liberties.

A consensus on 28 days was reached two years ago and there was no need to go back and review it. I cannot understand why Brown has done it.

Certainly, a defeat would have led to a fresh round of speculation about his judgement and leadership so I can understand the pressure on Labour MPs to support the government. But, unless I am mistaken, there was little public pressure on the government to increase the time. And Brown can only play that card once.

Just because public opinion was in favour of the changes once they were introduced, doesn't make them right either. Heck, most members of the public would like to see the death penalty re-introduced but I don't see Gordon Brown leading the charge for that one. (Incidentally, David Davis supports the death penalty but he hasn't resigned on a matter of principle over that!)

Diane Abbott, whose politics normally alienate me, made an impassioned plea for civil liberties in the debate yesterday which was impressive. But interventions like hers were few and far between. Most members of the Labour Party succumbed to the pressure to their eternal shame.

The idea of someone innocent being locked up for up to 6 weeks is too horrific to imagine. And yet the Labour Party which is meant to stand up for the marginalised, the unpopular and those who are suspected, rolled over and gave the Prime Minister his Pyrrhic victory.

A bad day for the Labour Party, a bad day for democracy, a bad day for Britain.

David Davis Resigns

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, announced ten minutes ago that he is to resign as a MP and force a by-election in his constituency on the issue of 42-days detention. In a speech outside the Palace of Westminster, Davis claimed that his decision was entirely personal and sparked by yesterday's terror bill. He claimed it was more evidence of an intrusive government.

Apparently, Davis was unable to get a commitment from David Cameron that he would reverse the 42 day law should the Conservatives form the next government and there has been an almighty row behind the scenes. It is also understood that Davis has done a deal with the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, and there will be no Liberal challenge to Davis in the by-election.

This is an utterly bizarre decision. There is certainly no precedent for it.

It shows that the Conservatives are divided, Cameron is probably unwilling to commit to reversing the law and the relationship between the two men is acrimonious whatever they may say.

Labour may be rubbing its hands in glee if it feels it can paint Davis and therefore the Tories as weak on terrorism. But it is also possible that Davis could use it to genuinely attack the Government and inflict further damage.

This is a self-indulgent decision by David Davis. While he may feel he is taking a personal stand on the issue, it is also an almighty political gamble and I am not sure it proves anything.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The Obstacles Facing Obama.

So we're off.

The race to be the next President of the United States has begun.

Both McCain and Obama have been out campaigning in the last two days. Obama intends to spend the next two weeks in the Appalachians - places like West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee - in the hope that he can persuade white voters (who supported Clinton) to switch to him. It won't be as easy as some people expect.

This will be a ferociously fought campaign and I think closer than many people believe.

As I see it, Obama faces many obstacles on the road to the White House, but I think they can be broadly grouped into two categories:

1. Race.

Race has been the most important electoral cleavage in American politics for the last thirty years. Every successful Republican candidate has used the issue of race to win the Presidency. It was a tactic first used by Goldwater in 1964 and then subsequently by George Wallace in his bid to become President. Both failed in their attempts but their method of using race to win over disgruntled white voters was developed by subsequent candidates. If the explicit racism of Wallace and the Right is no longer part of the public sphere, then it certainly remains a more subtle part of the political discourse. The 'White Backlash' which has partly fuelled the conservative movement since the 1970s will respond well to Republican messages that stress race as the most important electoral factor. This means we should expect to hear questions raised over Obama's Kenyan background, his education in a Muslim school, his links with Jeremiah Wright and his wife's African-American heritage to name but a few.

America is the only place in the world that could elect a Black man like Barack Obama, it is a model to the rest of us, but some areas of the United States are still racist and Obama will have to overcome this if he is to succeed.

2. Liberalism.

It was the historian Richard Hofstadter who first wrote of an anti-intellectualism in American life in the 1960s. It was as true then as it is today. The Republicans will paint Obama as an intellectual, northern, liberal elitist who does not share 'mainstream' America's values. They will portray him as out of touch and unconnected from the real world - an ivory tower sort of figure. The same trick they played on Adlai Stevenson, George McGovern, Al Gore and John Kerry. This means we should expect to hear questions raised over Obama's Senate voting record, his community work in Chicago, his social policies and his educational background to name but a few.

When taken together, race and liberalism will be a potent mixture for the Republicans. For example, let's take an issue like welfare reform - a hot topic for both candidates. The Republicans will argue that Obama's liberal policies will see a return to the permissiveness of the 1960s and increases in federal expenditure - or big government - as they will put it. They will argue that Obama's reforms only help the undeserving poor i.e. urban, poor Blacks. When most Americans think of welfare, they also think of African Americans in the same category. It is not hard to see how white working class voters, already anxious about Obama, will respond to this Republican message. Obama as the candidate for 'welfare cheats', single moms and poor Blacks - all at the expense of themselves.

John McCain is not racist. He is a decent and honourable man. But this won't stop his party using the combination of race and liberalism to rally its supporters and attack Obama.

I am also concerned about the latest polling. Politics Today calculated that Obama was 3% above McCain in the national polls this morning. However, this is well within the margin of error. Also, at this stage in the electoral cycle Jimmy Carter was 20 points ahead of Gerald Ford in 1976 and Michael Dukakis was 16 points ahead of George Bush in 1988 and he still lost. I have every expectation that they will improve now that the election has started properly but they must start doing so soon.

These are big challenges. Big mountains to climb. If anything, the primary season has shown us that Obama can pretty much cope with what is thrown at him. But a northern liberal Democrat has not been elected to the Presidency since 1932 (John Kennedy ran to the right in his 1960 Presidential campaign and does not count.)

So its hard work from now on and full steam ahead for Obama.
His journey to the White House has only really just begun.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Brown's First Year.

I have just finished watching Andrew Rawnsley's documentary on Gordon Brown's first year as Prime Minister.

I don't think it told us anything new. It confirmed what we already expected:

An essentially good man who has self-inflicted his own wounds firstly with the election-that-never-was.

It was interesting to hear some of the Cabinet like Jack Straw discuss their advice to Brown about whether or not to hold an election, although I would have liked to hear what Balls, Miliband and Alexander have to say for themselves. They probably have the most to answer for.

It didn't offer much in the way of hope or encouragement for the future though.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Clinton's Concession Speech.

Hillary Clinton finally found her voice.

In a passionate, moving and eloquent speech yesterday in New York, she conceded defeat to Barack Obama and vowed to do everything she could to get him elected.

At times, the speech was deeply personal and moving. I even had a lump in my throat at one point. She talked about her own personal journey, the supporters who had worked tirelessly to get her elected and thanked the 18 million people who voted for her.

She also urged her supporters to back Obama. She could not have been more explicit. This will satisfy Democrats who are keen for the party to get united and take on the Republicans in November.

At times the speech was also inspirational. "Public service is about helping people solve their problems and live their dreams," she said. And for the first time ever, you actually thought she meant it. She came across as authentic - a quality she lacked spectacularly during the 16-month long primary season.

She even borrowed Obama's campaign slogan: "Yes we can!" A nice touch I thought.

The speech was also a call to arms for women everywhere. "There are now 18 million cracks in that glass ceiling," she shouted. And its true. Her candidacy sends out a powerful message to women everywhere. It also establishes Clinton as a political figure of historic significance. Yesterday, she moved out from under her husbands shadow.

I make no secret of my support for Barack Obama. I think he remains the better candidate. But yesterday I was reminded of why I have always had a soft spot for Hillary. She conceded with elegance and grace - qualities distinctly lacking in modern politics.

Whatever you may say about her, one thing is for certain - she is a class act.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Who will Obama pick?

I have also been doing a lot of thinking about who Obama chooses as his running mate and who gets the job of Secretary of State under an Obama Administration. Here's a rundown of the top names:

Vice President

Bill Richardson - Executive experience. Used to be Secretary of Energy. Hispanic and from the South West. Foreign affairs experience. Former Ambassador to the UN. Downside? Hispanic and African American on the same ticket. Not really appealing to those blue collar Democrats.

Jim Webb - former Republican. Secretary of the Navy for Reagan. Brings the state of Virginia along with him where he is now a Senator. Beefs up executive and foreign affairs experience. Quite blunt apparently on the stump. Gets the white working class vote though. Fits in with Obama's post-partisan appeal.

Tom Daschle - Former Senate Majority Leader from South Dakota. Will appeal to those pesky C2s. Downside? Doesn't seem very dynamic. His endorsement did not help Obama win South Dakota in the primaries. If he can't do that, he does not seem very useful.

Ted Strickland - Governor of Ohio. Important swing state Obama needs to win in the election. Appeals to the white, working class and religious vote.

Ed Rendell - Governor of Pennsylvania. Strong military credentials. Can win over the blue collar Democrats. Downside? Clinton supporter.

Secretary of State

The most interesting question. Anyone Obama chooses will have experience, which means that they will probably hail from the Clinton era. Might have to be critical about Iraq too.

Joe Biden - Senator from Delaware. Lots of experience leading the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Was on the Judiciary Committee before that. Safe pair of hands running the State Department. Downside? My dad told me he once plagiarized a Neil Kinnock speech. Enough said.

Richard Holbrooke - perennial Clinton favourite. Good experience brokering the Dayton Peace accords. Hawkish but sensible. Doesn't suffer fools gladly. Like him a lot.

John Kerry - Disaster.

Wesley Clark - If you want experience, this man once ran NATO, he can run 'foggy bottom.' But, he does not have his own political base and is a poor communicator.

Tony Lake - Clinton's National Security Advisor. Switched support to Obama in 2008. Very experienced. Intellectual bruiser too. Think Denis Healey. But a controversial figure. Used to work for Kissinger and not liked by Republicans. Would be a nasty nomination process. Probably, not going to happen.

Chuck Hegel - Republican. Former military man. Very, very critical of Bush Administration over Iraq. Advocates early withdrawal. Would really toughen up the Obama Administration but 'softie' Europeans would be uneasy.

Chris Dodd - Who? Well, he did stand to be President this year but withdrew after poor showings in the early caucuses. Apparently, he is quite good on foreign affairs. Would be a real liberal. Maybe bring a breath of fresh air to State. Doesn't seem to have the gravitas though. I actually don't know who he is properly.

Strobe Talbott - Former Assistant Secretary of State under Clinton. Very experienced. Intellectual heavyweight too. Like him a lot.

Jamie Rubin - Assistant Secretary of State under Clinton. Ferociously bright. Brilliant communicator. Good looking. Use to teach at the LSE. My hero. Unfortunately, it is not going to happen.

If Obama wanted to be really exciting, he could of course choose Al Gore. That would be very dramatic.

Or he could do what Santos does to Vinick in the West Wing. He could offer McCain the job of Secretary of State. Just an idea....

Is Obama the Google candidate?

David Axelrod, Obama's Campaign Manager
What's he learnt from Google?

I have done some more thinking about why Obama was able to defeat Clinton and I came across this insightful article published by Harvard Business on its blog. It's so good I have copied it below for you to read. You can click the link to follow comments.

The article compares Obama's insurgency to Google's methods of business. Two things leap out which make it a good analogy:

Firstly, the Obama team did not try to centralise all its resources in a single, top-down centre. It shared them, in this case voting lists, with thousands of grassroots activists (the periphery not the core.) Empowered with responsibility and autonomy, these activists became advocates for Obama's campaign - putting in all the hard work, getting out the vote and successfully out-organising the Clinton juggernaut.

Google does the same. It leverages out resources to the edge of the company, instead of hording them at the centre, which allows it to maintain its dynamic edge and take on rival competitors.

Secondly, Obama crafted a message that engaged people via different media formats. On his website. On YouTube. On the printed page. Via Email. It made people feel included in his campaign, rather than talked 'at' which Clinton did.

Google's use of search engines and the way it distributes information to consumers make the brand stronger and a better communicator than rivals because it is able to engage with people on a direct level.

The article goes into depth about how competition in business is increasingly asymmetrical and this tends to favour the smaller side. But I think what the author is getting at makes sense. Models of business are changing. Firms like Google which have a different organisational and business structure from others seem to be the model of the future. Political parties could do with learning these lessons too. Obama's team has already grasped and implemented these changes. I think in November it will make him President.

But the Labour Party, here at home, could also do with learning some of those new lessons to age old problems - how to organise, how to activate supporters and how to craft a message. It may well remain important to have a strong centre, but perhaps the days of a top-down Millibank core are over. If Labour can learn from the Obama campaign and craft a new DNA for itself it may well stave off defeat at the next election.

Now read this article and comment away:

Obama and the Rise of Asymmetrical Competition
Posted by Umair Haque

The most interesting contest of the last few months hasn't unfolded in the corporate world, but in the political one. So how did Barack Obama pull off such a radical upset, anyways?

Over the past few weeks, many of you have pointed out that the Obama campaign is a great example of many of the principles and concepts we’ve been discussing – he’s kind of the Google of politics.

So let's discuss how he clinched the Democratic nomination - from a strategic, not a political, point of view. Put aside your own personal politics for a moment – and I’ll put mine aside, too (or let's at least try to :) .

What’s immediately obvious is that Obama didn’t spend decades building the resources to power a campaign which could defeat Hillary: he was able to do so in a matter of months.
Here’s a parallel. Yesterday, it took Coke decades – and billions invested in advertising – to build the world’s most powerful brand.
As we’ve discussed, today, the most powerful brand in the world is Google. And Google built it in less than decade – with almost nothing spent on advertising.

Both outcomes are remarkable - and remarkably similar. Why?

Yesterday, the majority of competition was symmetrical: between players with relatively evenly matched resources and capabilities. Think Ford vs GM, P&G vs Unilever, or K-Mart vs Sears: the long march of the oligopolists.

That’s reflected in industrial era assumptions about competition that are still with us – King Kong sized competitors are who boardrooms should worry about most; pint-sized ones aren’t much of a threat.


Wrong. Today, its time for boardrooms to consider a troubling proposition. Competition is increasingly asymmetrical: pint-sized revolutionaries are able to pop seemingly out of nowhere and topple yesterday’s giants – fast.

Players playing by radically new rules are rewriting the rules of strategy. And I think the Obama campaign is one of the best examples of the rise of asymmetrical competition.
Yes, startups have always challenged incumbents. So what makes asymmetrical competition different? First, rarely before new and lateral entrants been able to upset incumbents so decisively – to actually put them out of commission. Second, rarely have they been able to dominate entire industries with such speed. Third, almost never before have so many revolutionaries threatened so many incumbents across a broad sweep of industries. Fourth, in asymmetrical contests, yesterday’s sources of advantage become today’s sources of disadvantage.

Let’s discuss just two aspects of asymmetrical competition that challenge orthodox approaches to strategy: how resources are built, and how important DNA is.
Obama’s campaign didn’t have any of the resources Hillary’s did, to begin with – not cash, not experience, not a brand, not relationships, not Bill. Yet, he was able to accumulate these resources at light-speed.

How? By learning to leverage resources at the edges of the firm, instead of at it's core.
Orthodox strategy teaches firms to hoard and hide resources at the core. But consider how precisely and deeply the Obama campaign
inverted this lesson:

" state after state, the campaign turned over its voter lists — normally a closely guarded crown jewel — to volunteers, who used their own laptops and the unlimited night and weekend minutes of their cell-phone plans to contact every name and populate a political organization from the ground up."

That's a textbook lesson in edge leverage: often, in a hyperconnected world, instead of hoarding a critical resource, more value can be created by sharing it at the edges.
Think about that for a second. How far outside the boundaries of possibility is that logic for most boardrooms? That's the gap between orthodoxy and economic reality.

Or take cash. Where Hillary tapped macro-donations from the establishment, Obama tapped micro-donations from anyone – an effect that was small at first, but grew like a snowball hurtling down the Matterhorn.

Sound familiar? It should – think Wikipedia vs traditional encyclopedias.

Or take marketing. Where Hillary’s strategists focused on the tired, industrial-era strategy of segmenting consumers to divide-and-conquer, Obama focused on crafting a message and a brand that cut across artificial divisions in market space.

Sound familiar? It should – think Google’s deliberate refusal to sell out, by making, for example, Google Kidz, or Google for Evil Marketers.Or take distribution. Where Hillary focused on building relationships by pushing soundbites to people, Obama focused on letting people pull a richer set of information: his campaign engaged communities both on and off-line, and made a point of making speeches and info available via sites like YouTube, where you could watch them to your heart’s content.Sound familiar? It should – think of how Myspace is reorganzing music from an industry where “product” is pushed at people, to one where, well, music actually counts again.

Now, I haven't been able to follow the race as closely as I would have liked, because I've been finishing my book (yes, finally :). So I'm sure the above isn't the whole story at all - feel free to add or subtract from these examples.

The larger point is that shifting from core to edge is how the Obama campaign reversed tremendous resource asymmetries. But why wasn’t Hillary able to capitalize on her existing resource advantages? The difference is in the DNA. Sometimes, at least, it seems the Obama campaign might just be organized and managed according to a different set of principles than orthodox political campaigns.

Consider, for example, Obama’s ongoing refusal to attack Hillary negatively – a clear violation of orthodox political and corporate strategy’s playbook, where bloodsport is the name of the game.

So why won’t he do it? It’s a stark demonstration of a principle we’ve discussed: in an edgy world, what goes around comes around. If Obama attacks Hillary today, the costs of allying with her supporters go up tomorrow.

Who else do we know that applies that principle? Google, of course, who strives to do no evil, as we’ve discussed.

Both Google and Obama have their flaws. Google, for example, doesn't always do no evil. But contrast their DNA with industrial era DNA – where it’s ripping the other guy’s head off that counts.

Where was the latest example? In finance, of course – where the would-be masters of the universe thought, amazingly enough, that they could get away with selling each other lemons…forever. Think of how much better off they would have been if bankers had obeyed edge principles – instead of thinking with their bonuses.

In other words, it’s new DNA that drives asymmetrical competition – when we organize and manage in new ways, we are able to tap new sources of advantage. Because the Obama campaign was organized differently, for example, it was able to overcome, and then actually turn the tables on, massive resource asymmetries, by shifting from core to edge.
So where do we see asymmetrical competition happening in the corporate world? The real question is – where don’t we see it happening. Here’s a short list of asymmetrical competitors: Tata, Embraer, Ryanair, American Apparel, Whole Foods, Cipla – and, of course, players like

Google, Apple Craigslist, Wikipedia, and Threadless.

Not all of those players leverage the edge to the massive extent the Obama campaign has. But what they all have in common is that they’re organized and managed very differently than the industrial-era firm: they’ve all got radically different DNA. That brings us, full circle, to another principle: advantage is in the DNA.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Why did Obama win?

Why has Barack Obama defeated one of the strongest political machines and dynasties in American politics? Why did he win the Democratic nomination? Here, I think are the most important reasons:

1. He is the change candidate. People are tired of the Bush legacy of cynicism and despair. They are tired of politicians that triangulate and tell us what they think we want to hear. They want change - and Obama represents that. He is authentic. He speaks from the soul. He is talented and he is young. His Presidency would help erase the legacy of racism that has pervaded American politics for decades. In 2008, people wanted change over experience.

2. His campaign. Led by David Axelrod and David Plouffe, Obama's campaign for the nomination has been revolutionary. Not only was it able to organise effectively at a state level in the traditional way but it also harnessed on-line networking sites, new media and the Internet to build up a powerful grass-roots organisation that was unbeatable. It was an antidote to the traditional and distant party machine that left people alienated from the political process. His speeches have been electric too - eloquent, powerful and full of passion. They enthused crowds and kept the campaign alive.

3) New coalition of voters. Obama's campaign succeeded where few did by stimulating unprecedented levels of turnout. He attracted young people, educated professionals and African Americans. His passionate appeals for hope and idealism in politics got the vote out and created a coalition of loyal, active participants. These people will be crucial come November.

4) Judgement. Barack Obama does not have the decades of Washington experience John McCain or Hillary Clinton have. He is an outsider to the Washington establishment - a good thing in my book. But what he does lack in experience, he makes up for in judgement. On every issue that has been important from the war in Iraq, to campaign financing, to the role of lobbyists in the political process, Barack Obama has time and time again demonstrated his superior judgement and his conviction. Americans recognised this and voted for him.

Now, America has the first African American candidate who has a real chance at the Presidency. I hope people get behind him. But this is only the first battle, now the real hard work starts.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Why did Clinton lose?

There are many reasons why Hillary lost the nomination to Barack Obama. I think the following are the most important ones:

1) She badly misjudged the mood of the nation. In a year when people were crying out for change, she ran on a platform of experience. In a normal election year this might have worked but 2008 is a transformational election. People are demanding change and her campaign came to represent the same tired, cynical machine politics of the past.

2) Her team badly misjudged the importance of the early states and particularly those like Iowa or Nevada which held caucuses. These give candidates momentum and once Obama established the "Big Mo" it was hard for Clinton to come back.

3) Organisation - crucial to electoral success in America. She tired to win by concentrating on the big states, spending her money early on commercials and TV adds and acting from the get-go as the presumptive nominee. She failed to build networks of grassroots activists, comparable in size to Obama's, who would organise for her and 'get out the vote.' When her campaign realised this, they failed to act quickly enough.

4) Bill. His reference to Jesse Jackson's failed primary bid in 1988 caused a stampede of African-Americans away from Clinton and to Obama. Before then, her popularity amongst African Americans was remarkably resilient. After Bill played the race card, she lost the support of that community for good. No Democrat President since 1950 has won without it.

However, her tenacity, resilience and intellect make her the second most powerful Democratic player in the country. She has come closer than any other woman to winning the Presidency. She is the most successful woman in American political history.

She would do well to get Obama to sign up to her health care agenda and take on some of her staff. This would show unity. I also believe she would be the best choice for Senate Majority Leader. In this position, she could play a powerful role in Washington and see many of the policies she has spent a lifetime campaigning on enacted into law.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Clinton is History

Hillary Clinton celebrated her primary win in Puerto Rico yesterday where she picked up 68% of the vote. This means she adds another 55 delegates to her total count, Barack Obama received 14. But it is a Pyrrhic victory. Puerto Rico is not even a full member of the Union and it doesn't get a vote in the general election in November. Her win is meaningless. Obama was right to stay away and spend his time - and most importantly his money - elsewhere.

South Dakota and Montana, where Obama has been campaigning, hold the final primary elections tomorrow. Obama looks set to win them meaning when the delegate votes are combined, he will have the final victory.

If it is true that Clinton intends to take her campaign to the super delegates then this would be a grave mistake. As I have said before, it would tear the Democrat Party apart and give the Republicans a great opportunity to expose their divisions. Remember, political parties that are divided invariably lose.

Clinton must be exhausted and her campaign is certainly broke (a $20 million deficit by all accounts). However, she can still wield influence by getting Obama to sign up to her health care plan and maybe take on some of her staff. After all, this would be a good way to show that the Party was united. But surely, its now time for her bow out.

Her campaign is surely history?