Posts Tagged ‘Douglas Alexander’

Back to the future – Labour set to rerun the 2010 election campaign

05/01/2015, 08:07:31 AM

by David Talbot

Labour, said Douglas Alexander, the party’s general election supremo, would tap in to voters’ “submerged optimism”. The coming election battle would be a “word of mouth” election fought street by street. Traditional mainstays of the election campaign – posters, leaflets and election broadcasts – would be usurped by the surge of digital campaigning. While the party would be heavily outspent by the Conservatives, Labour would instead focus on “community organisation and peer-to-peer communication”.

Announcing that the party had learnt heavily from the Obama campaign, Labour’s use of digital media would pioneer real-time defence against the opposition as well as digital attack ads, raising funds and recruiting volunteers. This was in comparison to the Conservatives  who would spend their considerable war chest on “posters and paid distribution”. Labour’s campaign wouldn’t spend flashy millions and would win not through “one-way communication, but one-to-one communication”. Labour’s approach could be summarised by Alexander’s view that “traditional methods of communication are just inappropriate”.

Sound familiar? Last week Douglas Alexander unveiled Labour’s central campaigning themes for the 2015 general election. But the quotes and context above are all taken from Douglas Alexander’s comments made in February, 2010. The similarity between what Alexander said in 2010, when Labour was to fall to its second worse electoral defeat in its history, and his comments last Friday, are striking. The comments are, in certain passages, in fact almost identical.

In this election Labour will, according to Alexander, engage with “the anger felt by so many in the only way a progressive party can.” In 2010 Labour would deal with “anxiety and anger over bankers’ bonuses, expenses and the recession, a general sense of grumpiness” in, infamously, a “future fair for all.” Labour will “fight this election conversation by conversation, doorstep by doorstep, community by community” whilst in 2010, borrowing from Obama, naturally, it would be “regular people briefing Labour’s message to their neighbours, serving as our ambassadors, block by block, throughout the battleground seats”.


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Advantage Alexander in Labour’s campaign team reshuffle

04/07/2014, 08:02:33 AM

Three new faces join Labour’s campaign team as deputies to Labour’s chair of campaign strategy, Douglas Alexander: Gloria de Piero, Toby Perkins and Jon Ashworth to improve broadcast coverage, field operations and work with candidates. Cue warm fraternal regards from all and sundry on Twitter, nothing to see here, all just run of the mill announcements.

Except of course, they aren’t.

The essential background is that Michael Dugher – responsible for campaign communications – and Douglas Alexander, are not on speaking terms. We know because of this. Quite possibly the most extraordinary example of red on red briefing since the low point of the TB-GBs a decade ago.

The overlapping nature of their briefs was always likely to cause friction, a function of Ed Miliband’s reluctance to pick a single campaign boss. Now, the Alexander-Dugher antipathy has become so entrenched that even by Labour’s dysfunctional standards (see recent comments by J Cruddas about unreconciled camps), something had to be done.

Rather than fix the original mistake and unambiguously choose a single campaign lead, Ed Miliband has opted for a fudge.

The primary role of the new appointments is to form a human shield between Alexander and Dugher.

In the original campaign structure, Dugher and Alexander had an executive function: their role was to discuss the recommendations from the staff team and make decisions. But in a world where the two aren’t talking, and the leader refuses to choose between them, a buffer was needed.

Enter the new deputies.

It’s notable that on the Tory side of the fence, there is no comparable proliferation of MPs in campaign roles. They have a single official at the helm, Lynton Crosby, who is accountable to Cameron and Osborne and that’s it. Everyone else does as they are told.


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David Axelrod is Douglas Alexander’s “sock puppet consultant”

16/05/2014, 06:56:40 PM

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.


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With Douglas Alexander in the firing line, cui bono?

01/04/2014, 12:37:22 PM

by Atul Hatwal

As Labour’s internal wrangles have spilled into the papers over the past week, there has been a single thread running through each story. Sam Coates at the Times summarised it well on Sunday when he tweeted,

One common theme in all Labour row stories this weekend (and my piece last week): all involve people having problem with Douglas Alexander

— Sam Coates Times (@SamCoatesTimes) March 30, 2014

Last week Douglas Alexander was vetoing John Cruddas’ expansive policy review proposals. Then on Saturday he was firing Arnie Graf, swiftly followed on Sunday with Alexander falling out with almost everyone involved in Labour’s campaign.

This last story in the Mail on Sunday was particularly jaw-dropping, even by Labour’s standards of red on red briefing. The incredible level of detail, the direct quotes and conspicuous subsequent silence from the principals on several of its specifics, speaks volumes about the splits at the top of the party.

The narrative seems set: Douglas Alexander is the problem.

But is this all rather too easy? Allies of Douglas Alexander and even neutrals are suggesting a rather different view of what is happening within Labour.

The missing element in all of these stories is some important context about the battles behind the scenes as Labour attempts to define its policy platform.


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Labour’s policy on the European referendum means death on the doorstep

13/05/2013, 05:04:39 PM

by Kevin Meagher

An in/out referendum on Europe is “not in the national interest” according to shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander on Radio Four’s World at One earlier. Securing recovery and providing stability for investors is more important than political game-playing.

There will be some measure of satisfaction at the top of the party that here is an issue where Labour look serious and resolute, particularly with business audiences. Privately, they will praise Ed Miliband for his fortitude. ‘We don’t want the uncertainty’, they will tell him. ‘You are right to hold out.’

He should not be seduced by their platitudes. What he should tell business leaders is that they will need to get their hands in their pockets and pay for a show-stopping pro-European campaign ahead of any vote in 2017.

He should explain that the ball has been threaded between the legs of pro-Europeans (and I include myself here) and we are left running to catch-up. The referendum is now essential to rebuilding trust with the electorate on an issue where the governed and the governing have become dangerously unstuck.

Ed should also tell them that Labour remains positive about Europe and that the vote that can be won.

The underlying problem is that the cause of closer integration has always been an elite pursuit and there has never been any real attempt to explain and, if not popularise, then normalise our membership of the European Union. For Ed Miliband, it can be a genuine One Nation cause.

As it stands today though, Europe is a proxy for all the antagonisms the public feels towards its governing class. Like immigration, it’s something that has changed a traditional British way of life without the public ever feeling they were offered the choice, let alone gave their consent. That sort of anger doesn’t dissipate, it festers.

For Labour, the party’s refusal to accept any of this means death on the doorstep. All the Tories and UKIP need to do in next year’s European elections is frame Labour as the party that won’t give the electorate a say. It will ensure there is little scrutiny of UKIP and provide the Tories with an attack line that will resonate in all parts of the country with all groups of voters.

A rum state of affairs, then, for a self-proclaimed people’s party to find itself in.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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A renegotiation and referendum for what – a “line to take?”

23/01/2013, 01:29:10 PM

by Kevin Meagher

So was it really worth the wait? There’s been less speculation about the second coming than there has about David Cameron’s Europe speech over the last month.

To be fair it was carefully crafted and fluently delivered. And half of it could have been said by any mainstream Labour or Lib Dem politician. Yes, the EU needs reform and must focus on competitiveness and address the democratic deficit. Amen to that. shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander was quick to point out as much on his tour around the broadcast studios this morning, calling, specifically for reform of the common agricultural policy and EU budget.

And three quarters of Cameron’s speech could have been delivered by Iain Duncan-Smith, Michael Howard or William Hague. There was not much new, with heavy emphasis on John Major’s call, two decades ago, for “variable geometry” in reshaping the EU.  So a trip down memory lane and a restatement of that peculiarly Toryish view of Europe with the promise of a renegotiation and referendum bolted on?


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Sunday Review: the EU phantom menace

20/01/2013, 08:00:22 AM

by Anthony Painter

In the space of three years, the prime minister has moved Britain from the EU’s cautious awkward customer to the self-destructively preposterous. Let’s be clear, this has absolutely nothing to do with some irresistible popular clamour for a referendum on our membership of the EU. It is entirely self-inflicted. Realpolitik has been ditched in favour of pusillanimous capitulation. This whole thing is about the neuroses of the Conservative party. This is not leadership; it is fear – of a phantom menace.

In fact, there are three phantoms that appear in this whole sorry saga. The first is a speech – a phantom speech. It’s has been long in the gestation and from the unconfirmed sightings that have been reported, it is an utterly vacuous statement of the bleeding obvious about jobs, growth, competitiveness, and the democratic deficit .

So the EU has to change. We are very lucky to have this pointed out – who knew? Douglas Alexander had it absolutely right in his speech at Chatham House this week when he argued:

So significant are the potential consequences of this speech that it is tempting, indeed reassuring, to presume a degree of strategic thought or high public purpose in its preparation. The truth, I fear, is both more prosaic and more worrying. This speech is about politics much more than it is about policy. And its origins lie in weakness, not in strength.

The second phantom, is the monstrous ghoul that is the federal super-state waiting to sink its teeth into these poor defenceless northern European islanders. This is the one that has Tory eurosceptics waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. Their problem though, if you look at the argument in its elements, is more with the “state” element than anything else. Tory eurosceptics believe the alternative to EU regulation is no regulation. On this, like so much else they are entirely wrong.

Regulation would in fact just carry over, as we would still need to access the European markets. To gain access to the EU on a free trade basis, anything we imported or produced for the domestic market would have to be EU regulation compliant. And why would business want two regulatory standards?

Even if we decided not to trade freely with the EU, then we would still need to ensure clean beaches, toys without toxic chemicals, workplace safety, fisheries that weren’t over fished, proper information for consumers, farming subsidies, and fresh water standards. A world without regulation of the eurosceptic’s dreams is an apparition. Even if it could be achieved it wouldn’t last the first scandal over food poisoning, cod shortages, lead poisoning, horsemeat in burgers, or horrific increase in deaths in the workplace.


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Sunday Review on Monday: Bill Clinton at policy network

19/11/2012, 07:00:52 AM

by Jonathan Todd

In the closing stages of the US presidential election Joe Klein voiced “the frustration that many informed voters have had with this race: Romney’s proposals for the next four years are ridiculous; the President’s are nonexistent … The vast majority of people in the vast majority of states are irrelevant to the process. The campaigns brag about their ability to microtarget voters. That is precisely what we’ve gotten: a whole lot of micro at a time when macro is sorely needed.”

Now that the Republicans have thrown all they could at Barack Obama, securing less popular votes for Mitt Romney than John McCain managed after the nadir of George W Bush and failing to deny the Democrats another four years in the White House, it seems almost churlish to revisit Klein’s moans.

But Bill Clinton brought them to mind last Thursday night at Policy Network and Global Progress’ launch of a major programme of transatlantic political dialogue. While full of praise for Obama’s hyper-efficient machine, which “knew the names of all undecided voters, the names of their children and their TV viewing habits”, Clinton stressed the continued importance of the macro vision that Klein felt was lost this year.

He argued that tough economic conditions set Obama a testing re-election challenge, meaning that he had to utilise every advantage, including micro-targeting of voters so precise as to outdo the slickest corporate campaigns. Progressives should, however, seek to hold the centre, as this will deliver a majority of support, irrespective of micro-targeting.


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Tom Watson’s apologetic addendum to his piece on Douglas Alexander and Libya

20/04/2011, 06:32:42 PM

In an unusual move, Tom Watson has added a caveat to his article adversely criticising Douglas Alexander’s refusal to back a recall of Parliament.

His apologetic addendum to this morning’s piece reads:

West Bromwich, 18.25

On re-reading this article, I find that, not for the first time, I’ve been too harsh on Douglas Alexander. He’s not making the calls, Hague is. He’s got the difficult task of reacting very quickly to a fast changing policy. So I regret the harsh tone of the piece. Sorry Douglas. To be fair, I should have said how he completely exposed coalition incompetence in the early days of the conflict over the evacuation. But I’m seriously worried about mission creep. And parliament hasn’t been consulted. Ministers should be held to account.

Whatever else you may say about Watson, he is never short of surprises.

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We should recall Parliament, but Douglas is sitting on his hands

20/04/2011, 11:30:32 AM

by Tom Watson

There are few issues more important for our Parliament than sending British troops to a hostile country to support an unknown opposition fighting a raggedy civil war against a brutal dictator.

Questioning him on Friday 18 March after the government statement on Libya, David Winnick asked the prime minister:

“despite all that the prime minister has said about reservations – no ground troops and so forth – does he recognise that in the country at large there is bound to be great anxiety that we could be dragged, through escalation, into a third war in nine years? Therefore, will the prime minister make sure that there are daily – or at least very regular reports to the House of Commons, so we avoid a third war”?

David Cameron replied:

“…there should be regular statements updating the House. The point the honourable gentleman makes about no ground troops and no occupying force is vital. That is in the UN security council resolution; it is the reassurance that we can give to people that that is not part of our aims – it is not what the UN wants, it is not what the Arab league wants, it is not what Britain wants. That is clearly a limitation on our ability to act, but it is absolutely right, and I think people will be reassured by it”.

I read in today’s papers that we are sending troops to Libya, or as the government describes them “military liaison advisory teams”.

Yesterday, a number of Conservative MPs called for Parliament to be recalled. The government has not responded. While driving my children to a well known West Midlands theme park, I’m sure I heard Douglas Alexander on the radio agreeing that there was no need bring MPs back to discuss the matter.

I’m getting prematurely long in the tooth but I feel Douglas has made a mistake. He should have pressured a government minister to come to the House. It would have allowed MPs who worry about our Libya campaign to seek assurances that this does not represent mission creep. Personally, I don’t need to ask those questions. I know it is.

A recall would allow me, and others, to test the wisdom of David Cameron. David is very good at saying things. He’s a good wordsmith. He emotes. But he always leaves me with the sense that he’s basically just a bullshitter. It often feels like he is not fully formed in his views. You have to be up close to this set of ministers to get the full picture. Press statements are not enough.

It’s the psychology of our current crop of leaders that gives the game away. Unlike David Cameron, William Hague is a transparent politician. You always know what he is doing and thinking, even when his words suggest something different.

When William Hague said that sending “military liaison advisory teams” does not represent “boots on the ground”, I thought “oh my God, we’re sending in ground troops”.

Maybe Douglas knows a different William Hague and David Cameron. I would imagine he’ll be given special briefings on privy council terms. He probably accepts telephone calls, made by arrangement between their respective private offices for mutually beneficial times in their busy diaries.

Maybe that’s why he said on the radio that on this occasion he was satisfied by the government explanation of the need to send in special military liaison teams. Despite this, he shouldn’t be so quick to sit on his hands when backbenchers express legitimate concerns.

A recall of Parliament is a pain for all concerned. We should have one all the same. We’re sending in troops, for God’s sake. And look where that got us last time.

Tom Watson is Labour MP for West Bromwich East.


West Bromwich, 18.25

On re-reading this article, I find that, not for the first time, I’ve been too harsh on Douglas Alexander. He’s not making the calls, Hague is. He’s got the difficult task of reacting very quickly to a fast changing policy. So I regret the harsh tone of the piece. Sorry Douglas. To be fair, I should have said how he completely exposed coalition incompetence in the early days of the conflict over the evacuation. But I’m seriously worried about mission creep. And parliament hasn’t been consulted. Ministers should be held to account.

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