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Labour recruits Barack Obama's 'digital attack dog' Matthew McGregor to help Ed Miliband win 2015 election

McGregor, the digital strategist who embarrassed Romney with social media strategy, talks to Oliver Wright

Oliver Wright
Wednesday 24 April 2013 18:35 BST
Matthew McGregor of the team behind Obama's successful campaign for re-election to the Presidency in 2012
Matthew McGregor of the team behind Obama's successful campaign for re-election to the Presidency in 2012 (Micha Theiner)

Labour has signed up the man credited as Barack Obama's 'digital attack dog' in last year's US presidential contest to help run the party's 2015 General Election Campaign, The Independent has learnt.

Matthew McGregor, who ran Obama's 'rapid response unit' during the last Presidential race, started advising the party on its campaign strategy several weeks ago.

He has been asked to help Labour replicate the Democrat's success in harnessing social media to ruthlessly attack their opponents, raise funds and recruit volunteers.

During the Obama campaign Mr McGregor's carefully crafted attack video and blogs exploited every Republican gaffe - often within minutes or hours of them being reported.

Although the campaign rarely paid for the videos to appear on network television the slickly edited clips of Romney slip-ups - often accompanied with jaunty music - were distributed via Facebook and Twitter and shared among thousands of Obama supporters.

Despite the low cost inventive packaging guaranteed that they were broadcast on news channels - often setting the agenda for the campaign.

Mr McGregor was credited with undermining Mr Romney foreign policy credentials by releasing an unflattering video of him questioning whether London could successfully stage the London Olympics. He also exploited a secret recording of Romney claiming that nearly half the American people would never vote for him and released a spoof news clip imagining a world in 2013 under a Romney Presidency.

"When you talk about rapid response it has to be rapid, but it also has to be pointed," David Axelrod Obama's chief campaign strategist said after the election. "Matthew has got that edge to him."

In his new role Mr McGregor, a Briton who cut his teeth in Labour politics before moving to America, is expected to assist Ed Miliband in recreating New Labour's formidable election machine - if not its policies.

He will be assisted by other former Obama staffers working for Blue State Digital - the political consultancy of which he is a director and that has been formally hired by Labour to assist its campaign.

In an interview with The Independent after an event at King’s College London, Mr McGregor said there were clear lessons from Obama's victory in 2012 that could be replicated in the UK.

"Everyone says that America is different - that it's Obama and there's loads of money in American politics.

"Everyone wants to focus on the differences. And yes countries are very different.

"But the principles are the same: How are you trying to build a relationship with supporters and potential supporters using digital tools. How are you going to nurture that relationship and what are you going to ask people to do?

"That set of principles applies whether you are in Nevada or Norway - it's just that the tactics are different."

Mr McGregor said the secret was providing content that was "meaningful" and "enjoyable" while inspiring supporters to do something that could "tangibly affect the outcome of the election in millions of small ways".

"When we were doing something like rapid response we were thinking about media but we were also thinking - is this something our supporter will share? Is it entertaining? Does it speak in the words that normal people speak in?"

Mr McGregor said his best moment came when Mr Romney visited London and appeared to question the ability of Britain to hold a successful Olympics. It became the centre piece of a video undermining Romney's foreign policy credentials - and included a clip of Boris Johnson pretending not to know who Romney was.

"His day in London was the best day of my life," said Mr McGregor.

"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."

Mr McGregor was cagey about exactly what he would be doing for Labour or what advice he was giving them but he said it was about creating a narrative for the party by telling a story.

"Storytelling is not just 'here are our policies'. 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."

And he downplayed his reputation for being the hard edge of the Obama campaign.

"I'm really not the kind of nasty, negative campaigner that people make me out to be," he claimed. "I'm a nice guy".


The foreign policy slips

Subtitled Mitt Romney's 'Easy Five-Step Approach to Foreign Policy' the video lampoons all of Romney diplomatic slips not so subtly suggesting he is unfit to lead America. The jaunty game-show style music belies the seriousness of the message - and includes a clip of Boris Johnson suggesting he doesn't know who Romney is.

The flash-forward

The Obama camp released an imaginary news bulletin shortly before polling day - purportedly from 100 days into a Romney administration. It included segments suggesting that a Romney nominee for the Supreme Court was going to help overturn American abortion laws, and another from Obama supporters "wishing they'd done more" to help him win.

The spoof trailer

Released in advance of the Republican convention the video took the style of a movie trailer. Called Convention Reinvention it told the story of a man "who had tried everything" to get elected and was giving it one last shot. It ended with the movies rating - N for Not going to work. It was viewed over one million time online.

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