The Labour former cabinet minister Douglas Alexander is understood to be trying to stand again as an MP at the next election, in the latest sign of Labour “big beasts” returning to frontline politics.
Sources confirmed to the Guardian that Alexander, who held three cabinet posts under prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, had submitted his application to be the party’s candidate in East Lothian.
Allies believe the former MP, a Brown protege, could bring valuable experience of government if the party wins the next general election, amid concerns that only two shadow cabinet members – Yvette Cooper and Ed Miliband – have held cabinet jobs.
Alexander, who dramatically lost his Paisley and Renfrewshire seat to the SNP’s Mhairi Black at the 2015 election, when Labour was left with only one MP in Scotland, has been a senior fellow at Harvard University since leaving politics.
Other well-known figures who held cabinet posts in the last Labour government, including David Miliband and Ed Balls, have also been the subject of speculation regarding a potential return to Westminster.
Miliband, who quit his South Shields seat in 2013 to take up a role running the International Rescue Committee aid charity in New York, fuelled speculation last month that he could return to the UK before the next election when he said: “That has not been decided yet. That has not been done.”
The former foreign secretary in Gordon Brown’s government is a close ally of the shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, and has said he is “enthusiastic” about the direction of Keir Starmer’s leadership. No plan has been made about where he would seek a seat.
Balls, who has embarked on a career in television since losing his seat in 2015, ruled out a return to politics at the Wakefield byelection earlier this year, but friends have suggested that he had not entirely given up on standing again.
However, some Labour insiders would be less than pleased to see Miliband – who was widely regarded as a future Labour prime minister until he lost the leadership contest against his brother – making a comeback, as they feel that others have spent years doing the hard graft of making the party electable again.
Alexander’s return could also be viewed with some suspicion. However, he is understood to have the support of senior Labour figures close to Starmer who regard him more favourably than Miliband because he fought – and lost – his seat in the 2015 election, while the former foreign secretary quit Westminster in 2013, prompting a byelection.
East Lothian is Labour’s number one target seat in Scotland, and was held by the party until the SNP landslide in 2015, then briefly won back between 2017 and 2019, with Labour insiders describing it as “on paper the most easily winnable seat for us in Scotland”.
Alexander, who remains well-respected in Labour circles but will have to win over local party members, is said to be the favourite but faces tough competition in the selection battle with rivals including the former Labour adviser Gregor Poynton and Kirsty McNeill, Gordon Brown’s speechwriter in No 10.
The seat is held by Alba’s Kenny MacAskill, who was elected in 2019 for the SNP with a 3,886-vote majority, and is expected to stand again. The SNP and Greens are also planning to put up a candidate, which could divide the pro-independence vote.