Douglas Alexander has given an interesting interview to the Independent in which he reveals that Labour has set up a team to monitor Ukip. It will go some way to reassuring those at the top of the party who, as I report in my Telegraph column this morning, are growing increasingly nervous about the party’s chances in the European elections. There have been awkward confrontations in Shadow Cabinet meetings about the party’s election strategy, and demands for something a little more tangible on the doorstep from shadow ministers from all wings of the party, and from candidates.
It’s interesting that Labour is taking Ukip seriously, as some party chiefs initially read the result of the Wythenshawe by-election as a sign that Nigel Farage’s attempt to nick Labour voters wasn’t working. But what’s also interesting is what Alexander has to say about Labour’s message:
‘Of course we need to show we are a genuine alternative to an unpopular, Conservative-led government. But we need to set ourselves a higher standard than a party offering anger like Ukip. We need to offer answers. Our offer is going to be inherently different to a party of protest because we are an alternative party of power. Our policies, outlook and messaging need to reflect the experiences of people in communities right across the country.’
The question, though, is whether Labour has time to tell voters that it is the solution to all the problems that it is pointing out at the moment. Insiders worry that Alexander’s expertise lies in campaigns which manage the decline of the vote of a party in government, adopting attack lines that focus on the Tories’ weaknesses rather than Labour’s own promises. Hence the debate in the party about whether it is wise to ‘shrink’ the offer in the manifesto. It was something former campaign chief Tom Watson warned of in a blog for LabourList, arguing that ‘one more heave will make everyone feel sick’ and ‘running the 2015 election campaign as if its 2010 would be a doomed approach’. Today’s interview suggests that Alexander is fighting back against the other internal party critics who continue to sit at the Shadow Cabinet table with him.