Whitehall contract for PM's adviser

One of the masterminds behind Labour's landslide election victory has secured a plum Government contract.

Philip Gould, Tony Blair's polling adviser and a close ally of the Prime Minister, has been retained by the Foreign Office to survey public attitudes towards the European Union.

The hiring of Mr Gould will raise eyebrows at Westminster where he is viewed as being a member of the Prime Minister's inner circle and one of the architects of Labour's modernisation programme. He is also a trusted ally of Peter Mandelson, the Minister Without Portfolio and key Labour strategist.

The pounds 30,000 contract was awarded by the Foreign Office to Mr Gould's new "strategic research" agency. After leaving Millbank Tower, the Labour campaign centre, at the end of the landslide campaign last May, he formed, in September, the new firm with two leading US political advisers, James Carville and Stan Greenberg. Called Gould Greenberg Carville NOP, their agency is one-quarter owned by NOP, the polling organisation, and has a small office inside the Express newspaper building at Blackfriars, central London. NOP is part of MAI, the media group headed by Lord Hollick, the Express newspaper proprietor and another close friend of Mr Blair.

Mr Gould's two partners also have strong Labour connections. Credited with winning the presidency for Bill Clinton, they both assisted Labour in the British election battle.

They met Mr Gould when he was drafted in to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1992 to advise the Clinton campaign on how to fight Republican attacks copied from the British Conservatives. Mr Greenberg flew from the US to be part of the Millbank Tower team during the campaign while Mr Carville gave advice to Labour by telephone.

Like Mr Gould in Britain, Mr Greenberg, a left-wing academic turned pollster, was one of the architects of the "modernisation" of the US Democratic Party. The tough-talking Mr Carville was the hero of Mr Clinton's 1992 campaign and the driving force behind the Little Rock "war room", portrayed in the best-selling novel, Primary Colors.

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 Gould's firm has taken over all opinion research for the Labour Party from NOP. It was a poll for his new company which found that 94 per cent of people thought Mr Blair was doing a good job as Prime Minister. The Foreign Office contract is its first from the Government.

Married to Gail Rebuck, head of the British arm of Random House, the publisher, and herself a member of Labour's inner circle, Mr Gould's role in the election was to tell Mr Blair what the public thought. He is a great believer in the use of focus groups - informal discussions with small groups of floating voters - which he always conducts himself.

A Foreign Office spokesman confirmed Mr Gould's appointment. "The objective is to provide a snapshot in the UK to the EU and EU issues in advance of the UK presidency [of the EU]," said the spokesman. He said it was necessary as "public opinion is important in a modern democracy". He stressed that Mr Gould's bid was chosen on its merits.

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