Lib Dems back Labour's choice of e-minister

Douglas Alexander is tipped as a man with powerful connections, and one who could fight off attempts by the Home Office to over-regulate the IT industry
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Despite lacking a technology background, Douglas Alexander could prove to be a successful e-minister thanks to his influential position within the Labour Party, according to the opposition Liberal Democrats.

Having helped to mastermind Labour's successful election campaign, 33-year-old Alexander is a rising star within the party. He worked as a speech writer for chancellor Gordon Brown in 1990, and the pair are thought to still enjoy a close relationship today. According to Richard Allan, IT spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, Alexander's clout will help him to fight for the UK's e-business sector within government.

"Douglas Alexander is seen as the wonderkid of the Labour Party. I think Gordon Brown has put his man into the job of e-minister, and it's an indication that e-business is seen as being key to UK prosperity," Allan said.

Last February Brown riled BT with a speech demanding that Internet access charges be cut. Brown has also had discussions with Oftel about pushing BT to speed up local loop unbundling -- widely seen as a vital move that would boost the number of homes connected to the Internet.

The choice of Alexander, MP for Paisley South, as minister for e-commerce and competitiveness surprised many within the IT industry. Benny Ginman, Intel's director of government and education programmes for Europe, the Middle East and Africa admitted to have never heard of Alexander. Sun spokesman John Tutcher meanwhile said that Alexander has a "low profile".

Allan, however, believes that it is more important that the man in charge of developing Britain's status as a home for e-commerce is capable of winning battles with other government departments. If properly briefed, Alexander could protect the UK high-tech sector from too much government regulation, he thinks.

"Alexander's background suggests he has the political weight to battle with other departments, and to tell the Home Office to back off over Internet regulation, if necessary. We know there was a fight between the Home Office and the DTI over the RIP act. We need someone in government who can say 'don't do that, do this', and be listened to," Allan said. He expects that, when a technology issue has wider implications to the economy, Alexander will be on the phone to Brown to enlist his support.

Allan concedes that Alexander will have to put in plenty of work if he is to get up to speed on important IT issues.

However, the Conservative party is less enamoured with the choice of Alexander. "All he seems to be is a runner for Gordon Brown -- this is just a reward for his services in the past. If I was in charge of defending Labour's e-commerce strategy I would find this appointment rather embarrassing," said Alan Duncan, the conservative shadow technology spokesman.

Duncan claimed that Alexander has made no impact on the House Of Commons since winning a by-election in Paisley South in 1997. "He's said nothing, done nothing and achieved nothing. The perfect Labour minister," added Duncan.

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