How Will David Axelrod Fare in the Blessed Plot?

At New Statesman, Nick Faith argues that David Axelrod has “his work cut out for him” in his efforts to help Labour leader Ed Miliband become UK Prime Minister. I agree with much of what Faith says, but would raise some other considerations that will matter in what has the makings of a close election.

Contrasting the upcoming UK election with the 2012 US election in which Axelrod sparkled, Faith points out that David Cameron will not commit Mitt Romney-style gaffes and that Ed Miliband lacks Barack Obama’s charisma. Although true, these advantages of Cameron over Miliband count somewhat less in the UK than they would in the US. A certain proportion of UK voters are put off by overly polished candidates (Boris Johnson appreciates this better than anyone). In a country whose national emotion is embarrassment, awkwardness in a politician is viewed more sympathetically than it is in the U.S.

Faith emphasizes rightly that voters who are concerned about the poor will smile on the coalition government having raised the minimum wage, frozen the fuel duty and augmented the personal income tax exemption. But it has to be said that the government also hiked the value added tax from 17.5% to 20%. Consumption taxes fall disproportionately on lower-income groups and are experienced as particularly painful at a time when wages (until recently) have been stagnant. Unless the government are wise enough to reverse this move, they will be subjected to criticism for this inequality-maximizing policy.

In contrast, the improving employment situation could help incumbent politicians enormously in the next cycle. More people are working in the U.K. than at any time in history, which has pushed the unemployment rate down to 6.8%. If the blue line in the chart keeps going up faster than population growth in the next 12 months, Cameron’s support will rise in tandem.


But from Axelrod’s US-based viewpoint, all of the above may seem like small beer relative to another critical fact: Unlike when he was crafting Barack Obama’s campaigns, Axelrod doesn’t need to persuade 51% of the voters to pull the lever for his boss. Even though Labour is currently trailing the Conservatives in the polls, between constituency boundaries that make U.S. Congressional Districts look like models of rationality and the presence of third parties that draw double-digit support, Axelrod can probably get Miliband the PM job even if two-thirds of the voters choose someone else in 2015.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.