Former minister Douglas Alexander recalls previous manifesto woes

Updated: 
BRITAIN-POLITICS/

A former cabinet minister has recalled Labour's previous manifesto woes, including receiving a note telling him: "John Prescott has punched a member of the public."

Douglas Alexander said the response of the then deputy prime minister to being egged by a protester was the moment things got a "whole lot worse" for the 2001 launch.

It came after Jack Straw, as home secretary, was slow-handclapped by police officers while Tony Blair was "harangued" by a member of the public about the NHS.

Mr Alexander, in light of the leaking of Labour's draft manifesto for the 2017 General Election, joked: "Today it's worth remembering that when parties make manifesto plans the Gods often laugh. Or at least the public often do."

Mr Alexander lost his Paisley and Renfrewshire South seat at the 2015 general election due to the SNP surge, although he was involved as campaign co-ordinator in 2001.

He said the events of Wednesday and Thursday reminded him about some of the "past manifesto difficulties I've lived through".

Mr Alexander explained that his initial fears about the 2001 manifesto launch involved the potential for transport problems to derail proceedings, after he asked cabinet ministers and journalists to visit Birmingham by train.

Writing in a series of posts on Twitter, he said: "In fact the train arrived on time & the manifesto launch highlighting investment in schools & hospitals went off without incident."

But Mr Alexander said he received a phone call informing him that then prime minister Mr Blair was being "harangued" on the steps of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

He went on: "This was not the broadcast coverage we'd anticipated on manifesto day. It was about to get a whole lot worse.

"I walked into Millbank's war room. Everyone was watching the TVs - Jack Straw was being slow-handclapped at the Police Federation.

"It was about to get a whole lot worse. At our evening planning meeting, Sally Dobson came in and handed me a folded bit of paper.

"It simply said 'John Prescott has punched a member of the public'. That was all. Everyone dashed to those TVs again.

"The pictures on Sky News showed the egging incident. This was not the broadcast coverage we'd anticipated on manifesto day."

Mr Alexander said Mr Blair and then chancellor Gordon Brown were among those involved in a "hurried call" to decide what to do next.

He explained: "All agreed instantly to support JP."

Mr Alexander added: "(Mr Blair) - with typical elan - simply laughed the whole incident off with the words: 'John's John...' - the media caravan moved on.

"So today it's worth remembering that when parties make manifesto plans the Gods often laugh. Or at least the public often do."