Ed Miliband’s ‘two thugs’

With little fanfare, a significant changing of the guard around Ed Miliband occurred earlier this week.

The Labour leader’s parliamentary private secretary, rising star Chuka Umunna, was given a new job as shadow minister for business & industry. According to Labour sources, John Denham was so impressed with Chuka’s work on the Treasury select committee that he personally requested the savvy Streatham MP on his team.

The vacant post as Ed Miliband’s PPS will be taken up by Gordon Brown’s former spinner Michael Dugher.

Dugher, recently elected as MP for Barnsley East, is not known as a shrinking violet. When he was Brown’s political spokesperson, a colleague of mine gave him a bell to check out the veracity of a story. ‘Unmitigated bollocks,’ was the gruff response. A Labour MP advises The Mail’s Ephraim Hardcastle column: ‘Michael is a rough and ready Northerner who knows how to drink pints of bitter.’

With Tom Baldwin in place as Labour’s director of strategy, some think that Ed Miliband is getting ready to play hardball. Speaking at an event I attended this week, hosted by Connect Communications, the Tory blogger-turned-radio host Iain Dale asserted that the Labour leader was now surrounded by ‘two thugs’.

The idea of nice guy Ed flanked by two burly hard men certainly has some comic appeal. However, Baldwin is yet to live up his reputation as a bruiser. The former Times hack’s most antagonistic act to date has been to ask broadcasters to consider using the phrase ‘Tory-led government’ from time to time. Not exactly Malcolm Tucker-esque.

As for Dugher, pals in the lobby are quick to point out that he is ‘charming’ and ‘affable’. One political editor tells me he is ‘definitely not a bully’. Dugher is more widely seen as a streetwise parliamentary fixer with a good eye for a story.

A former lobbyist, he’s particularly good at providing friendly journos with pithy soundbites. ‘One of the few MPs to actually get how papers work,’ is the verdict of one hack.

Perhaps he should be heading up the spin operation himself. But sources close to Dugher are keen to kill off that idea. They say he will help on political strategy, but insist there is no question of him treading on the toes of the party’s comms chiefs.

Gordon Brown’s media man spins into PR world

More than a year after Gordon Brown left Downing Street, many of his entourage are now safely installed in alternative employment.

Damian McBride is now head of media at Cafod, his successors Mick Dugher and John Woodcock (‘the spin twins’) have both become MPs, while the ex-PM’s top strategic comms adviser Justin Forsyth is chief executive of Save the Children UK.

One man providing difficult to place was Brown’s most recently-hired political spokesman Iain Bundred. Until now.

After a stint advising the Jordanian PM on behalf of Tim Allan’s agency Portland, it emerges that the well-regarded Bundred is to become director of strategic media relations at Ogilvy PR.

Nice title.

Bundred – known affectionately by lobby journalists as ‘Bunders’ – doesn’t start until next week, but he is already talking the lingo of the corporate PR world.

In a stunning statement, he says: ‘As PR moves away from traditional silos and towards offering 360-degree brand reputation strategies, Ogilvy PR is able to give clients an integrated service that other PR firms couldn’t dream of.’

If only Bunders could have provided his old boss with such lucid soundbites!

Lobbyists could be ‘collateral damage’ as Cam bids to strengthen Clegg

‘How can we strengthen Nick?’ According to insiders, this is the big question that David Cameron and his Downing Street lieutenants have recently been chewing over in the crucial 8.30am meeting.

As yet, the answer is unclear. Conventional wisdom has it that the Lib Dems will be given reform of the House of Lords in order to make up for their lost council seats and the defeat of AV.

Yet many Tory MPs are deeply opposed to Nick Clegg’s dream of replacing the Lords with a largely-elected chamber. It may be in the coalition agreement, but so what? Dave’s inner circle know exactly what they have signed up to. Earlier this week, George Osborne pointed out the said document pledges merely to ‘bring forward’ proposals, not enact them.

Neither are Team Cameron minded to let Clegg be seen as the saviour of the NHS. When the PM met the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs this week, he reportedly stressed that the NHS reform pause was his idea not Nick Clegg’s – ‘and that he won’t let the Lib Dems take credit for the coming changes’.

One thing that Clegg could be allowed to put his stamp on is the forthcoming statutory register of lobbyists.

Lucky him! The register was added to the coalition agreement last year as a sop to the Lib Dems. The Cabinet Office is expected to issue a consultation on the register in the next few weeks.

How robust will the register be? Most lobbyists are desperately hoping it will contain little more than names of lobbyists and who they work for. Most Tory MPs seen no reason for it to go any further.

But the Lib Dems may not be so easily pleased.

In their 2010 manifesto, the Lib Dems also pledged to ‘curb the improper influence of lobbyists by… requiring companies to declare how much they spend on lobbying in their annual reports’.

If they were to push for similar financial details to feature in the lobbying register, would the PM really stand in the way of that too?

Clegg could have a good old fight with lobbyists and business chiefs. But it seems unlikely that the Cameron – having previously made a such big deal of cracking down on ‘secret corporate lobbying‘ – would want to be seen as the defender of lobbyists.  Especially if another lobbying scandal occurs.

As one Westminster source put it earlier this week: ‘The Lib Dems will now get a greater say on the lobbying register.

‘If lobbyists are not careful, they could end up as collateral damage.’

Labour figures serve Ed Miliband a double-whammy

Ed Miliband won’t have enjoyed reading his two favourite newspapers this morning.

The Guardian runs an interview with Nick Hewer, who is Lord Sugar’s right-hand man on the Apprentice and a Labour supporter to boot. Hewer says he met the Labour leader recently:

‘Oh dear oh dear. He has the weakest handshake in western Europe. I went straight to William Hill and asked them to take a bet that he will not be Labour leader by the next election.’

As if that’s not bad enough The Independent quotes an anonymous ‘leading Blairite’ comparing Ed’s leadership to the dark days of Gordon Brown’s premiership.

‘Strategically, Labour is completely lost. Ed won the leadership as an insurgent but, now he’s there, he doesn’t know what to do next. It’s all looking very reminiscent of Gordon in 2007 when he finally toppled Tony. They have grabbed control, but now do not know what to do with it.’

Two damning comments from fellow Labourites on one day. With friends like that…

As Lib Dems lose council seats, Labour struggles to find winning soundbite

If Ed Miliband really is keen to show the common touch, yesterday’s response to the Lib Dems’ electoral drubbing is unlikely to have helped.

Surrounded by TV cameras and enthusiastic supporters, Ed said the Lib Dems had been sent a mesage ‘about the policies they are pursuing for which they don’t have a mandate’.

To hammer home the point, the Labour leader listed a number of Lib Dem policies – the NHS, tuition fees, ‘living standards’, the cuts…

‘FOR WHICH THEY DON’T HAVE A MANDATE’.

This dreary and slightly nerdy soundbite was employed five times in quick succession. It was Ed’s main contribution to last night’s Newsnight (see seven minutes in).

While the Sikh gentleman behind him seemed to enjoy it, is this really the type of language that will resonate with the Ed’s beloved ‘squeezed middle’?

The Labour leader has been warned about using the wrong words before. Earlier this year the Indy’s Johann Hari penned a superb piece saying he needed to ‘speak in much simpler and plainer language and assume much less pre-existing political knowledge on behalf of his audience’.

Yesterday’s performance shows that this remains the case.

Ed Miliband is an appealing character who undoubtedly has what it takes to see off David Cameron. But he needs to change his tune first.

MAY 8 UPDATE: Labour is now employing this attack line with gusto.

John Denham used it yesterday, and Andy Burnham has just given it a fresh airing on Sky News. The Spectator’s Pete Hoskin tweets:

‘Burnham broadcasting Labour’s favourite new attack: that the government “doesn’t have a mandate”. It’s not exactly poster-ready, is it?’

The best political intro ever?

With the demise of the Liberal Democrats comes an intro to savour from The Guardian’s Michael White.

He begins today’s page one commentary:

‘Nick Clegg has spent most of this week looking like a man who knows he’s stepped in a turd but can’t scrape it off his shoe in front of the cameras.’

His fine penmanship is on a par with Bryony Gordon’s at the start of this interview with the mighty Hezza in January:

‘There is a faintly decaying smell in Lord Heseltine’s living room, but I can’t work out if it’s coming from his musty carpets or our interview, which died a tragic death before it ever got going.’

Less snappy, but still brilliant, was this scathing opener from Decca Aitkenhead back in 2008:

‘By the time learner drivers are ready to sit their test, they tend to operate a car so correctly that there seems something almost wrong with how they drive. Every manoeuvre is executed with exaggerated concentration, and their driving is perfect – but it will still be a while before they relax at the wheel, and the intensity of their focus is both impressive and somehow comic. There is a touch of the newly qualified driver about Justine Greening.’

All are very good indeed.  But what’s the best political intro ever written?

For my money, the gold standard remains the classic second line of George Sylvester Viereck’s famous  interview of Hitler in 1923:

‘Adolf Hitler drained his cup as if it contained not tea, but the lifeblood of Bolshevism.’

[PS. Hat-tip to Stefan Stern for first spotting Michael White’s intro]

Labour advisers reunite in PR land

In the 1990s, Bell Pottinger became something of a safe haven for top Tory advisers adjusting to life outside of government.

In the post Blair/Brown era, which PR agency is fulfilling the same role for talented Labour types in need of a new challenge?

Blue Rubicon, I learned this week, has signed up Patrick Loughran, the well-regarded former special adviser to Lord Mandelson, ex-Number 10 staffer and one-time key member of Labour’s fabled “attack unit”.

When he joins later this month, he will link up with the agency’s head of strategy Spencer Livermore, a former colleague from the attack unit who also went on to work in Brown’s Number 10.

Also on board at Blue Rubicon is Chris Norton, who worked with both Loughran and Livermore during his many years as special adviser to the formidable Alan Johnson (with whom he remains in close contact).

So is Blue Rubicon now the natural home for the cream of the Blair/Brown era? Agency bosses are keen to play down the suggestion.

‘We don’t really view the world in terms of tribal political alliances,’ says one director.

Perhaps Damian McBride won’t be joining after all…