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Australian political guru Isaac Levido is on an impossible mission

Australian political guru Isaac Levido is on an impossible mission


Alexander Downer, former Australian foreign minister and high commissioner to the United Kingdom, agrees. He knows Levido well. As he recently told the BBC: Very intelligent. Calm. Analytic. Unexcitable. He's a very good person to run an election campaign, because it's full of vicissitudes.

Most of the stories that emerge from the engine rooms of British politics involve the kind of swearing-laced rages and fax machine destruction memorably caricatured in television satire. The thickness of it.

Levido, on the other hand, is known for rewarding hard-working staff with a stuffed koala, kiwi or echidna.

The only time I really saw him angry was when there was a leak. He hates leaks, a colleague told Political Insider magazine. Home.

Levido also rallies his team with a steady diet of motivational pop songs, which reportedly included European songs. The final Countdown and the queens A vision. During the penultimate days of campaigning in 2019, it was apparently An extra day from the musical Wretched.

He is good at making people feel valued, an anonymous colleague told the Times. It tells people enough to get involved.

Learn from Lynton

Perhaps his distinctive personality is possible because he comes from far beyond the insular, Oxbridge-heavy world of Westminster. Born in Port Macquarie on the NSW mid-north coast, he was a young sports enthusiast who acquired a taste for politics through his lawyer father, who served on the local council.

At the Australian National University, he majored in accounting, but followed his passion by taking a master's degree in politics at Georgetown University before working as an analyst for the Republican Party.

He liaised with Congress for the Australian Embassy in Washington under Kim Beazley, then was taken over by CT Group, where he came under the auspices of Liberal Party veteran Lynton Crosby.

Nearly all profiles of Levido describe him as a protégé or acolyte of Crosby, who has run liberal and conservative campaigns for more than two decades. Levido worked with Crosby on some of them, but surely by now he must be ready to be seen as a political operator in his own right.

He learned a lot from Lynton Crosby, that's for sure, Downer told the BBC. But he really is his own man.

Crosby probably has a sharper tongue than Levido. But the young man's projection of preternatural calm does not rule out the possibility of deep-seated, distressing anxiety.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is wet at the announcement of the elections.Bloomberg

In a revealing comment to the ex-FT the journalist Sebastian Payne for his book Lands of the broken heart, Levido said: A campaign is just a moment away from cataclysmic disaster or events that can throw you completely off course if you don't react properly.

A week into the Sunaks' campaign, it has been a real tour de force. The Prime Minister became a walking meme after his soggy election announcement in the pouring rain. As if that metaphor wasn't enough, he then paid a campaign visit to the Belfast shipyard that launched the Titanic.

All this has only reinforced the idea that Sunak is hiding for nothing. Now it appears that Levido and his team are leaning into this underdog status.

The Right Center Playbook

Their first task is to persuade potential Tory defectors from a rival right-wing Reform Party to return to the fold or else inadvertently help propel Starmer to victory.

Sunak's early campaign visits and policy announcements about National Service for 18-year-olds and tax cuts for pensioners are aimed at the Tory heartlands threatened by Reform, not the Tory-Labour fringes Johnson won four and a half years ago.

According to Sunday timeLevido views the election campaign as a court case: there is an opening argument, then an intervening period he calls the evidentiary phase, offering more detail on the main themes and attacking Starmer on key elements of his offer , followed by a final argument.

The opening phase concerns the struggle to set the terms of the competition. When someone enters a voting booth, they answer a question, Levido said. The successful campaign defines the questions voters ask.

The question Levido wants voters to ask is: what does Starmer stand for? Can you trust him, especially if you don't really know him and he seems slippery or even, in a recent conservative digital salvo, sleepy?

Could he turn out to be a classic, high-tax Labor politician who, as Morrison said of Shorten, wants to put his hand in your pocket? Is he a safe man on the economic steering wheel in these troubled geopolitical times?

This is a classic and often successful conservative playbook. But this time there are several drawbacks. First, opinion polls suggest that conservatives no longer have a monopoly on perceived economic competence. In the latest Deltapoll, 28 per cent of respondents said the Conservatives would be best for the UK economy and 47 per cent named Labor.

Similarly, the Corbynite Labor fringe did not draw Starmer into unpopular left-wing policies, as Levido had hoped. Starmer's small target strategy is more Albo in 2022 than Shorten in 2019, when Levidos' portfolio strategy prevailed.

The bigger problem is that voters seem extremely tired of the status quo. They are not hugely enthusiastic about Starmer or the Labor Party, but at this stage they appear ready to put aside any qualms or quibbles and bring down a 14-year-old government. It is very difficult to change the narrative about the time for change.

To turn the tide, Sunak is trying to present himself as someone with a plan to provide stability and security, a plan that is already bearing fruit and needs more time to flourish.

Levidos is betting that this thin evidence base could compare favorably with the completely evidence-free argument of the unknown and untested Labor Party. He also previously said that elections are always about the future and not the past.

A recent Charlesbye Strategy survey cited in the Times offers a pinch of grain for the Levidos mill. Among those who intend to vote Labour, 51 per cent say they most agree with the statement: I will vote to get rid of a Conservative government. Only 28 percent say they will vote for Labor because the opposition has the best vision for the country. The enthusiasm for Starmer is nothing like that of Tony Blair in 1997.

But Levido's ability to take advantage of this situation is hampered by the incessant hum of disunity from his own side. The columns and airwaves are full of Tories complaining about Sunak. The conservatives seem divided and dissolute, which reinforces the propensity of voters to eliminate them.

Levido has been warning Tory MPs for months that this type of disunity spells death, but it falls on deaf ears and discontent. If, when people finally look at us, they see us at each other's throats, they will look away, he told the parliamentary party hall earlier this year.

The need for discipline is a constant theme of Levido. As he told Payne, regarding the 2019 victory: We found the right frame and we held it. This is not an easy task. You need an incredibly disciplined effort from the entire team, and obviously the boss. [Boris Johnson] and the other guys on the front line.

His hope now must be that voters don't really register all the rumblings of the conservative beltway. He believes that mainstream media commentary is disconnected from what voters see and think.

An even stronger hope would be that the start of the election campaign now forces disaffected conservatives to wake up to reality and focus on the existential task at hand.

If they don't, Levido has a strong exculpatory explanation for failing to deliver a conservative victory. But over the next five, mostly sleepless weeks, he will work more than 18 hours a day to try to ensure he doesn't have to use it.

And even if this turns out to be mission impossible, Levido will surely be back soon for a new episode of the Anglo-Australian center-right electoral campaign.




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