Blair Reels From Another Embarrassing Memo Leak

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

London ( - British Prime Minister Tony Blair was plagued Wednesday by the latest in a series of damaging leaks of internal correspondence - a memo from a close advisor who said the Labor Party was in trouble and could see its majority slashed in the next election.

The memo was written by leading pollster Philip Gould, who together with campaign strategists James Carville and Stanley Greenberg has been instrumental in the successful election of Blair, President Clinton, Prime Minister Ehud Barak and others.

It was published in Tuesday's editions of the London Times and the Sun, both owned by the Australian media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.

Gould wrote in the memo that Labor's image was "badly contaminated" and needed an overhaul.

He quoted Greenberg as warning that Labor could have its lead over the Conservatives cut from 13 points in 1997 to just five percentage points, or 42-37 - "too close for comfort."

The latest leak occurred just two days after the two Murdoch papers printed another private memo, this time written by Blair, warning that the government was seen as being "out of touch" with voters on issues like crime, asylum-seekers and family issues.

Gould, too, warned of an "out of touch" government.

"We have got our political strategy wrong. We quickly seem to have grown out of touch. Our ministers simply do not seem as in touch as they were in opposition. We need to be far simpler and more professional. We need to get back in touch. We need to re-invent the New Labor brand."

The reference to the party "brand" is especially embarrassing at a time Blair is under fire from political opponents, the media and dissenters within his own party about his reliance on image and "spin."

Blair's office reacted to the leak Wednesday by accusing the opposition of trying to divert attention from the government's announcement yesterday of its spending plans for the year ahead. It has appointed an inquiry into the leaks.

But Conservative spokesmen denied the party was involved in any way and said Labor was reaping what it had sewn.

"The New Labor brand is badly contaminated, said senior spokesman John Redwood. "It was born of spin and it will die through spin. It is high time the government sacked the spin doctors and hired some real doctors to remedy the obvious defects in public services."

Gould, Greenberg and Carville

Gould, who was involved in polling and research for Clinton's 1992 and 1996 campaigns, was a key architect of Labor's makeover as "New Labor" ahead of Blair's successful 1997 election.

In his memo, he compares Blair's dismal performance to that of Clinton.

"I have a sense of government which started with great strength but has seen that strength ebb away and erode as the months and years have passed.

"Almost every issue that has caused us difficulty has been anticipated but we have been powerless to turn foreknowledge into effective preventative action.

"We are the opposite of Clinton. He started badly but got a grip and developed eventually an easy comfortable rhythm of government. We have been the opposite, starting with great momentum, but have been unable to sustain this into the latter part of the parliament."

Gould writes that the government is accused by the left-wing of being too right-wing, while the right-wing criticizes it "for being politically correct."

Gould has been associated with the Labor Party for 14 years, and introduced the concept of "focus group" research, in which small groups of people are asked detailed questions in an attempt to understand voter attitudes to politicians and politics.

He was brought into decision-making circles by Peter Mandelson, then communications director, and now Northern Ireland Minister.

Gould came to prominence in 1995 after authoring a memo calling for the party to establish a "unitary command structure leading directly to the party leader" - in other words a more presidential-style leadership - a recommendation which at the time angered Labor-affiliated trade unions.

He set up a polling and research company with American partners and Clinton allies Greenberg and Carville, called Gould, Greenberg, Carville, NOP.

Greenberg and Carville are believed to have offered considerable advice from the sidelines during Blair's successful1997 campaign, while Gould - as a Brit - played a leading role.

Gould and Carville also advised Israeli leader Barak on modernizing his party and improving his presentational skills.

The company's website says Greenberg was involved in campaigns for Clinton, Blair, and President Nelson Mandela.

Apart from the Clinton campaign, Gould has also been involved in polling for and advising the governments of Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Greece and Denmark.

Less successful Gould campaigns - not cited on the website - includes the one lost by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in February 1990, when Violeta de Chamorro beat Daniel Ortega by 55 per cent to 41.

The cross-pollination of ideas between the American Democrat and UK Labor camps has continued in recent months, at the same time as the UK Conservatives and U.S. Republicans have shared strategy.

Sydney Blumenthal, another Clinton advisor, has reportedly given Blair's circle a briefing on tactics being used against GOP candidate George W. Bush ahead of November's presidential race.

Labor representatives are likely to attend the Democratic convention in the summer.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow