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18 April 2010

Douglas Alexander: the man who “gets” the Tories

Election co-ordinator has led the way in exposing an “unchanged” opposition.

By James Macintyre

If Labour is having a successful campaign, then Douglas Alexander is its unsung hero.

Naturally self-effacing and unusually unkeen to take the credit for any success, Alexander is nonetheless — by all accounts — masterminding a sharply focused campaign that has at last enabled the Labour front bench to sing from the same hymn sheet about the way in which the softly supported Tories have not changed fundamentally.

As part of the reporting for this week’s politics column with Mehdi, I had a chat with a “tired but energised” Alexander, sitting on the grass in St James’s Park with a bottle of fruit juice. The Labour election co-ordinator had just absorbed David Cameron’s launch, the language of which — he said — reminded him of George W Bush’s “compassionate conservatism”.

A keen student of American politics, Alexander has been speaking to Democrat friends who say that the US Republicans have got themselves in the same “hole” as the British Tories, by focusing on “austerity”.

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“They say they will reduce taxes, protect spending and lower the deficit. But it’s a three-card Tory con trick. It’s something-for-nothing, Santa Clause economics,” Alexander said.

To back his claim that the Tories have not changed, he listed the Tory manifesto policies that remain the same as in 2005. These include, according to Labour strategists:

* A quota on immigration;
* To bring back fox-hunting;
* To scrap Britain’s opt-in to the Social Chapter, which helped establish a right to parental leave, better maternity leave and flexible working;
* A bill to deal with the fact they’re still struggling in Scotland by introducing so-called “English votes for English laws”;
* To cut the number of MPs — mostly those on the Labour side — and especially in Wales;
* More private providers to set up thousands of new school places;
* A risky plan to allow more hospital borrowing;
* More bureaucracy with elected police commissioners;
* The “Tony Martin” law, giving people the right to defend their home with violence.

Adding to that, Cameron has reached back to William Hague’s 2001 manifesto, bringing back the marriage tax allowance, an inheritance-tax giveaway for the wealthiest few, and a pledge to scrap health targets and regional development agencies.

Alexander concluded: “When he wrote his first manifesto for the Conservatives, David Cameron asked the British people, ‘Are you thinking what we’re thinking?’ When you look at his policies it is clear that David Cameron is still thinking what they were thinking.”