Election 2015: There are 100 days to go to a six-party poll that will focus heavily on the leaders

Mark Leftly and Jane Merrick reveal the top generals and lieutenants in each of the key parties (and, to keep David Cameron happy, the Greens are included as well)

Tuesday marks 100 days until the general election. This long campaign will focus  heavily on the leaders, from the personality cult of Nigel Farage to the increasing importance of, and arguments over, the televised debates. But behind all great – and not-so-great – leaders are powerful backroom staff, MPs and peers who are desperately trying to steer their parties to victory.

CONSERVATIVES

Leader: David Cameron

Team Cameron’s big beast is Lynton Crosby, a notoriously stringent disciplinarian who was behind Boris Johnson’s two London mayoral victories. The Australian’s order to “get the barnacles off the boat” means the Tories are focusing only on the six chosen election themes: the budget deficit, jobs, taxes, education, housing, and retirement.

George Osborne’s ballot box-winning credentials were damaged in 2010 when he failed to secure an outright majority. But he is the man in charge of the one thing that could keep Cameron in No 10 – the economy.

Seemingly left to his own devices is party chairman Grant Shapps, who has organised Team 2015, a group of 60,000 volunteers canvassing street by street. Jim Messina, Barack Obama’s campaign manager in 2012, is feeding into Shapps’ work, mostly remotely from the US.

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

Leader: Nick Clegg

When in dire trouble on the battlefield, get your top general out of retirement: former leader, SBS officer and Royal Marine Paddy Ashdown is back. Having led the Lib Dems from a small band of idealists to a significant party force in the 1990s, he is now trying to save the party from oblivion as its campaign director.

The 74-year-old will be ably supported by Jonny Oates, who is Nick Clegg’s chief of staff and well liked by journalists, and supported by Stephen Lotinga, a fellow alumnus of the Bell Pottinger PR group.

Ryan Coetzee came under fire for his taxpayer-funded salary when he was a special adviser to Clegg, but has been sharpening the Lib Dems’ message from party HQ since last summer.

David Laws is in charge of pulling the manifesto together, replacing Danny Alexander who did the job in 2010.

 

GREENS

Leader: Natalie Bennett

Chris Luffingham has tasted electoral success before: he masterminded the sartorially eccentric George Ferguson, a red-trousered independent, to the Bristol mayoralty in 2012.

Tom Beckett has rock solid eco-credentials, having worked for a  renewable energy association and a sustainability energy consultancy.  His main task is to raising money to build infrastructure and support campaigns.

Penny Kemp will be hoping she can make as much impact nationally as she has as a campaigner locally, having  recently been voted one of the 100 people who have made a difference to Kent.

 However, the Greens asked us to point out that theirs is a team without hierarchy: “The Green Party has an executive structure, all of whom take overall responsibility for the direction of the election campaign.”

LABOUR

Leader: Ed Miliband

It’s messy at the top of Team Miliband: Lucy Powell was made vice-chair to Douglas Alexander’s election chief in November, but also took day-to-day control of the campaign.

The shadow Foreign Secretary was the subject of sniping by Labour MPs who believe they should have been coasting to election victory rather than worrying about losing their seats. However, many senior backbenchers are just as annoyed that Powell, who managed Ed Miliband’s Labour leadership campaign, has secured such a top job and a shadow cabinet post after barely two years in Parliament.

Like Messina for the Tories, David Axelrod was Labour’s star signing from the US, where he was President Obama’s formidable strategist. However, senior figures in Labour have questioned what Axelrod is doing to earn his £300,000 salary.

UKIP

Leader: Nigel Farage

Suzanne Evans is Ukip’s most senior woman and, after policy chief Tim Aker was fired last week, is now responsible for writing the party’s election manifesto. An assured media performer, a successful election would see Evans eventually fulfil predictions in some quarters that she will be leader after Farage.

Patrick O’Flynn fell out with Farage over the so-called “Wag tax” on luxury goods that the former Daily Express journalist proposed last year. But O’Flynn remains close to the party leadership and his background in the Westminster lobby means he still has an eye on communications and strategy.

Known as “Gobby” in Westminster for hurling questions at politicians during his time as the BBC’s political producer, Paul Lambert became head of communications for Ukip last month. He once asked David Cameron and Nick Clegg: “Are you off to renew your vows?”

SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY

Leader: Nicola Sturgeon

There appear to be two SNP powerbases for the election, one in London and the other in Holyrood. Born in Wimbledon, Angus Robertson nevertheless leads the party in Westminster and masterminded its Scottish election campaigns in 2007 and 2011, and is advised by the brainy Luke Skipper.

Robertson’s fellow MP, Stewart Hosie, became Nicola Sturgeon’s deputy in November. A former Treasury spokesman, Hosie is responsible for the general election manifesto.

North of the border, Peter Murrell has more influence over the party than even his lofty chief executive title suggests: he is Sturgeon’s husband. The couple admit that they end up talking politics at home.

Widely respected in Holyrood, Kevin Pringle came close to spinning the “Yes” referendum campaign to victory despite a hostile Westminster media.

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