“I know you are angry, but you must vote Labour”

Douglas Alexander talks to James Macintyre

There was a moment during the 2001 election when infighting within Labour was so bad that Tony Blair telephoned his campaign co-ordinator, Douglas Alexander, to express prime ministerial support amid the storm. Alexander replied that, compared to his background in Scottish politics, the experience was only a "mild shower", and both men laughed.

Today, Alexander - who started working for Gordon Brown in 1990 - is once again Labour's campaign co-ordinator, and once again he is unmoved by the shadowy briefings about Brownites and Blairites. Perhaps this is because he is almost the only figure in government who is trusted by both camps. "One of the reasons I'm not worried about the party's future," said Blair in his final speech to the Scottish Labour Party in 2007, "is because of this guy, Douglas Alexander. The future of our party is secure with him and his generation." It is a generation - named "Next Labour" in this magazine - that looks beyond the old "TB-GB" wars while fighting for a fourth term.

Barely a week away from polling day, Alexander has taken time out of his hectic programme to make a direct appeal for New Statesman readers to help keep out the Tories by voting Labour.

Endorsing Andrew Adonis's case in the Independent that Liberal Democrat supporters should vote Labour in Labour-Conservative marginal seats, Alexander says: "This contest is a moment of great peril and great possibility for progressives. I know that there are voters, New Statesman readers, some of them my friends, who are angry about Iraq, anxious on Afghanistan and concerned about civil liberties. But I also know that they would be horrified if they woke up on 7 May and realised that their vote for the Lib Dems contributed to Cameron standing on the steps of 10 Downing Street." Re-electing Labour would, he says, "lead to a fundamental crisis of the Conservative Party and on the right of British politics. It would herald a new dawn for Labour and progressive politics.

If, however, the centre-left vote was split in seat after seat, we would be looking at the very real possibility of a majority Conservative government.
“I am determined that, in the final days of the campaign, we send a clear and unequivocal message that this election will be determined in large part by what happens in about a hundred Labour-Conservative marginal seats. Voters in constituencies across the country should vote for the party that can open up politics and advance an agenda for fairness. That party is Labour."

Alexander admits he is "dissatisfied" about the apparent puncture in Labour's poll ratings brought on by "Cleggmania", and is working hard to maximise his party's vote. On Sunday, he was addressing an audience of first-time voters about what brought him into politics: growing up
in Renfrewshire and seeing mass unemployment take away his school friends' hopes for the future. Then he was knocking on doors and talking to voters in the Paisley community in which he grew up. He joined his sister Wendy, the Paisley MSP who served in the Labour-Lib Dem coalition government following the 1999 Scottish parliamentary election. That campaign, also co-ordinated by Alexander, taught him that there is "little benefit talking of hypothetical situations" before elections.

Back at Labour HQ, Alexander has been playing the role of David Cameron and prepping Brown for the final televised debate. At the end of the first debate, he told supporters: “I'm beginning to think Alastair Campbell and I did better as Cameron than he's doing."

He believes "everyone should celebrate" the energising effect of the debates; Tory spokesmen, by contrast, have talked down the debates by comparing them to a "sixth-form debating society".

Alexander reveals that Labour wanted the economy to be the main subject of the first debate, but now "the Tories must be rueing the day" they fought for it to come last. He believes that the final debate will help Brown and Labour get their message across on economic questions. And Alexander has a good feel for these things. On the day before debate one, he briefed journalists that Clegg would win the headlines for the best performance. Before the second, he said that the right-wing press would hail Cameron as the "comeback kid".

At the eleventh hour, Alexander hopes the ultimate comeback kid will be a Labour Party he believes will deliver a "fairer, greener and more prosperous Britain".

James Macintyre is political correspondent of the NS

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 May 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Danger