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Jim Messina and Blue State Digital on Opposite Sides of British Election Campaign

BY Miranda Neubauer | Friday, August 2 2013

(Conservative Party/Facebook)

Organizing for America's Jim Messina will be working as a campaign strategy advisor for the 2015 general election campaign of British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party, BBC News reported today.

"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," Messina told the BBC program Newsnight.

The BBC report suggests that the party, known as the Tories, hopes to emulate the Obama campaign's re-election success in the face of economic problems, and mirror the way the Obama campaign combined social media with political organization.

Messina will report to Australian strategist Lynton Crosby and Conservative Party co-chairs Grant Shapps and Lord Feldman. According to the BBC, Crosby is said to have "admitted privately" that the combination of social media and campaign organizing is not his strength. Party officials stressed to the BBC that Messina would have no involvement with party policy.

In the 2010 UK campaign, the BBC pointed out, Obama advisor Anita Dunn helped coach Cameron on TV debate strategy, but the party also faced criticism that there were "too many important voices at the top of the campaign."

The BBC suggests that Cameron's opponent, Labour Leader Ed Miliband, will be worried by the news as he "has put in place markedly less of his general election campaign and is privately being urged to make progress." Their report adds that Miliband "might have hoped to secure a big Obama hire for his own efforts."

The news has also already sparked some irritation among Democratic supporters in the U.S., with MSNBC host Christopher Hayes tweeting, "Jim Messina is gonna work for the UK party committed to one of the most destructive austerity regimes in the world."

In fact, the Labour Party is already also working with its own group of Obama campaign alumni since hiring Blue State Digital earlier this year.

Matthew McGregor, formerly director of digital rapid response for Obama 2012, is leading that effort, Blue State Digital told techPresident in March.

LabourList, an independent left-leaning British blog, noted that news in March, reporting that the party was setting up a digital task force led by John Miles, the party's head of digital. A Labour source told LabourList at the time that "we are hiring one of the very best digital campaign companies on the world…it shows [our] determination to make digital campaigning one of the key ways we will fight the next election.” The blog post concluded, "If 2015 is the digital general election, Labour just put their tanks on the Tory lawn."

In an April interview with the Independent, McGregor emphasized that in spite of the differences between American and British campaigns, the importance of building a relationship with supporters through digital tools was the same and said that storytelling and providing meaningful and enjoyable content was key.

McGregor told the Independent that one of his most successful efforts was in response to Mitt Romney's trip to London when he seemed to call into question Britain's ability to host the Olympics. That incident became an important element in a campaign video that criticized Romney's foreign policy experience and included a clip of London Mayor Boris Johnson pretending not to know who Romney was.

"His day in London was the best day of my life," Mr McGregor told the Independent. "It was tremendously enjoyable. Not enjoyable because of the sheer agony of what he was going through but because I think it exposed the real Mitt Romney to the American people. That day showed voters that Romney was not ready to lead. And that's a big criteria for an election."

McGregor also emphasized to the Independent how digital campaigning can help motivate off-line action. "Storytelling is a really big part of building a movement so when you say 'would you like to knock on doors?' people know what you mean. They know what making calls for Ed Miliband looks like because they've read it on a blog post."

In 2009, Blue State Digital partner Thomas Gensemer, in response to a news article, praised Labour's digital efforts, but added that the party needed "more staff, more resources and more latitude to experiment."

McGregor has also been hired by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, of the Australian Labor Party, who his seeking a new term in office on September 7. Joining McGregor are Tom McMahon, former executive director of the Democratic National Committee and Joon Kim of the consulting firm New Partners.

In Germany, politicians heading into the September 22 national election have also been following the Obama example.