Labour Conference: PM's poll winners put their skills up for hire

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The Prime Minister's polling adviser Philip Gould has gone into business with the aim of becoming the Saatchi & Saatchi of New Labour. John Rentoul discusses an ambitious plan to exploit commercial interest in the May landslide election victory

James Carville, the "Ragin' Cajun", and the pollster Stan Greenberg were credited with winning the presidency for Bill Clinton. Philip Gould thought that they could weave the same magic for Tony Blair and recruited two of the most famous names in political campaigning to help in the general election campaign.

Now they hope there will be a big corporate market for the secrets of "modernisation", as companies scramble to learn the lessons of Labour's highly professional campaign and its opinion research techniques, many imported from the US.

Their joint venture, called Gould Greenberg Carville NOP, has taken over all opinion research for the Labour Party from NOP, which retains a role as one of four equal shareholders. It was a poll for the new company which found that 93 per cent of people thought Tony Blair was doing a good job as Prime Minister, and only 3 per cent a bad job. The findings were leaked by Labour to the press as its Brighton conference opened last weekend.

The new company promotes itself as a "strategic research consultancy" and sets out its mission as "to work for reformist, modernising and inclusive institutions seeking to adapt to a new era of change".

Mr Carville and Mr Greenberg met Mr Gould when he was drafted in to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1992 to advise the Clinton campaign how to fight Republican attacks copied from the British Conservatives.

Mr Gould had worked for Labour in a key behind-the-scenes role in two losing elections, and both sides learned from each other. After President Clinton took office, Mr Carville and Mr Greenberg looked abroad for opportunities to help win elections for centre-left candidates.

Mr Carville worked for Constantine Mistotakis, the Greek Prime Minister, while Mr Greenberg took time out to work for Nelson Mandela in South Africa's first multi-racial elections.

They returned to the fringes of Mr Clinton's re-election campaign last year, but had also started to take a close interest in the coming British election.

Mr Greenberg flew from the US to be part of the Millbank Tower team during the campaign, and will spend one week a month in London on the new venture. Mr Carville gave advice by telephone, but is expected to fly to London later this month to launch the company. However, his role is likely to be mainly to lend credibility, especially with potential American clients.

Winning elections can mean big money in the private sector, as the Saatchi brothers and their former colleague Sir Tim Bell showed. They built their advertising agency into a business with global pretensions on the strength of the 1979 Tory win. Sir Tim then cashed in on his role with a successful lobbying and corporate strategy company, Lowe Bell.

Shining stars of the darkest political arts

Philip Gould

An obsessive political junkie, he gave up a career in advertising after selling the agency he created. He is now a central figure in the modernisation of the Labour Party, close to Mr Blair and an ally of Peter Mandelson.

Responsible for polling and advertising at Millbank HQ in the election, he was trusted by the party leader to tell him what the public really thought. He is a great believer in focus groups, informal discussions with small groups of floating voters, which he always conducts himself.

Stan Greenberg

A left-wing academic turned centrist pollster, Greenberg was one of the architects of the "modernisation" of the US Democratic Party.

He identified the swing voters of McComb county, a blue-collar area outside Detroit, as the key to wresting the suburbs from the Republicans - the Basildon of American politics. He helped develop Bill Clinton's platform: ending welfare as we know it, tough on crime, on the side of the "forgotten middle class" who "work hard and play by the rules".

James Carville

The crazy hero of Clinton's 1992 campaign, he was the inspiration for the unconventional style of the Little Rock war room. As a spin doctor, he bewitched the media with his quick Southern wit and passionate commitment to the cause.

He became even more of a media star after the election, marrying Mary Matalin, George Bush's spokeswoman, who had ended the campaign by screaming at him for helping elect "a slime, a scum, a philandering, pot-smoking, draft-dodging pig of a man".