No, it’s not a term of abuse, well not quite. Rather, it’s a description of David Axelrod’s role according to Westminster murmurings that have reached Uncut’s ears.
For all the fanboy gushing in Labour circles at the coup of hiring Axelrod (although given Axelrod’s core business is as a consultant for hire, Uncut wonders whether it’s quite such an achievement; will the party next be trumpeting how Ed Miliband went to Kwik Fit and successfully secured the services of a mechanic?) the motivation for handing over six figures to David Axelrod seems to have less to do with his counsel and more with the divisions at the top of the party.
The split between Douglas Alexander and Spencer Livermore on one side and the shadow chancellor’s team on the other, is well documented. That Ed Balls didn’t even receive a sign-off on last week’s much derided VAT poster, and the alacrity with which his team were keen to let the world know this fact, speaks volumes for the dysfunction in Labour’s campaign machine.
While Douglas Alexander nominally has the lead on campaign decisions, the political heft of the shadow chancellor means that it’s difficult for Alexander to blithely over-rule Balls.
This is where David Axelrod comes in.
He has been positioned as the swing voter. Prior to each key decision, Axelrod will be consulted, briefed and guided, by, yes, you guessed it, Douglas Alexander. And when the time comes to decide in the meeting, Axelrod will cast his vote with Douglas Alexander.
Axelrod’s American stardust and substantial remuneration mean it’s difficult for the shadow chancellor to simply ignore him. After all, given the party is paying so much money for one person’s advice, there would have to be an incredibly good reason to reject it.
This approach, of hiring a high end consultant to validate existing plans and insulate the internal decision-maker from criticism, is common-place in the public sector. These hires have even got a generic name: “sock puppet consultants.” Now the practice seems to have been imported into the Labour party.
In many senses, the real coup in hiring Axelrod was actually Douglas Alexander’s. Not because Axelrod said yes, but for the control it gave him over campaign decision-making. A clear win for the shadow foreign secretary over the shadow chancellor.
Or at least, that was how it seemed before the disaster of last week’s political election broadcast – the un-credible shrinking man – and that VAT poster, upended the fragile internal status quo.
Now news is being briefed out that Douglas Alexander will be headed to Scotland to pitch in with the Better Together campaign. Coincidences like this are rare in politics: a catastrophic campaign flub swiftly followed by word that the boss will be going part-time and spending more time several hundred miles from the general election team, in Scotland. Really?
The immediate beneficiary of Douglas Alexander’s absence from his campaign duties will be leading Ballsite, Michael Dugher. He’s clashed repeatedly with Alexander, partially because the two don’t get on and partially because his role as communications lead for the campaign, means there is an obvious overlap with Douglas Alexander’s responsibilities.
Chalk that one up to Ed Miliband’s decisiveness in choosing between Alexander and Dugher for the role of campaign chief. Why have one leader when you can have two, quarreling, most of the time.
What happens if and when Douglas Alexander returns following the independence referendum later this year, is unclear. What is evident though is that Labour’s campaign team is in a mess.
The team remains split, Douglas Alexander is weakened, perhaps terminally, and there is still no clear sense of the strategy Labour should adopt in fighting the next election.
Just about the only happy camper is likely to be David Axelrod. He’s currently on a plane to the States after just two days of face time over here, headed back to home sweet home, several thousand pounds better off.