Put the Penn away

June 2, 2008 at 9:43 pm | Posted in British Politics, New Labour | Leave a comment
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By now, you won’t need me to tell you that poor Gordon’s political future is as precarious as an icecube in an ocean. Every day we see stories about the New Scandal!, the latest Poll Shock! or a rumoured Cabinet Coup! and every day we see our nation’s blessed punditocracy bashing their heads against their keyboards and submitting the results under the title of What Gordon Must Do Now.

Run to the left! they cry. No, run to the right! Let’s reconnect with out heartlands! No, don’t forget about our precious marginals! After reading only a handful of these articles, you’re forgiven if your ears start ringing with white noise.

So what’s really needed in a time like this is a political guru who can (cliche alert!) sort the wheat from the chaff; an experienced strategist who can distill the best of New Labour whilst drawing up a plan to reconnect with the party’s roots and drag the party towards victory in 2010.

Unfortunately, that knight in shining armour is unavailable, so we’ll have to settle for this guy:

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, the controversial pollster Mark Penn – until recently Clinton’s chief strategist – insists Brown has “plenty of time” to address the government’s slide in the polls, and says setbacks such as last month’s defeat in the Crewe and Nantwich byelection can sometimes turn out to be just what a troubled leader needs.


“There’s plenty of time … People are not in a good mood about the economy … so it’s going to take time, definition, persistence to turn it around. But it can be done.”

Phew! When the architect behind one of the most catastrophic campaigns in modern politics tells you not to worry, that really puts your mind at rest, right?!

Barely two months ago there were rumours that Gordon might hire this obsequious loser high-achieving pollster, and I recall being somewhat, errm, sceptical. Still, you shouldn’t take my biased word for it, and so in the interests of thoroughness, I bring you a collection of testimonials to the political ‘genius’ of Mark Penn.

Hillary advisor Harold Ickes:

“Mark Penn has run this campaign,” said Ickes in a brief phone interview this morning. “Besides Hillary Clinton, he is the single most responsible person for this campaign.


When asked if Penn was therefore responsible for the campaign’s strategy, Ickes said, “It’s pretty plain for anyone to see that he has shaped the strategy of the campaign. He has called the shots.”
“Mark Penn,” he said, “has dominated the message in this campaign. Dominated it.”

Former Clinton aide Paul Begala:

“I have nothing but contempt for Mr. Penn,” said Begala at a New York City breakfast sponsored by the non-profit group Public Agenda. “And for those of us who wanted to see him out from the beginning, it became almost a Rumsfeldian thing”

The normally genial Josh Marshall:

The last couple days have shown very clearly I think that Clinton could do nothing better for her campaign than to throttle this clown and let her get down to the business of making a case to voters for her candidacy


Clinton is ultimately responsible for putting her political fate in this fool’s hands. But this is a guy who has basically one big political win under his belt and whose record in seriously contested races, particularly Democratic primary races is one of almost constant defeats.

Karen Tumulty:

As aides looked over the campaign calendar, chief strategist Mark Penn confidently predicted that an early win in California would put her over the top because she would pick up all the state’s 370 delegates. It sounded smart, but as every high school civics student now knows, Penn was wrong: Democrats, unlike the Republicans, apportion their delegates according to vote totals, rather than allowing any state to award them winner-take-all. Sitting nearby, veteran Democratic insider Harold M. Ickes, who had helped write those rules, was horrified — and let Penn know it. “How can it possibly be,” Ickes asked, “that the much vaunted chief strategist doesn’t understand proportional allocation?”

Finally, just for fun, here’s Penn’s laser-sharp demographic analysis in action:

I first flipped through Microtrends while at the YearlyKos convention, and Penn, astonishingly, seemed to comprehend the importance of the loosely connected, grassroots-driven, progressive movement’s flowering. “I suspect the lefty boom will bring a surge in the promotion of sheer creative energy,” Penn writes, “driven by an idea that is at the heart of this book—that small groups of people, sharing common experiences, can increasingly be drawn together to rally for their interests.” I was shocked—Penn was speaking admirably of “lefties,” not trying to recast them as moderates, not trying to write them out of the party? He was endorsing open-source politics, rather than a top-down structure? I had misjudged the man!

I read on. Penn was talking about actual lefties—people who are born left-handed.

I don’t suppose there’s any chance that persuing the left-handed vote could’ve ve helped Labour win Crewe and Nantwich, is there? Nah, thought not.

Free advice Gordon: when Mark Penn is saying something, you should think the exact opposite. So when he tells you not to worry about 2010, you should be very, very afraid.


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