Johnson: for the life and for the leaving of it – bravo!

Alan Johnson was too normal for the very top flight. The great paradox of his recent career is that the sense of perspective which would have made him a great leader is precisely what made him recoil from the job.

He didn’t even really want to be deputy leader. The famously common-touch polished performer was the overwhelming favourite to succeed John Prescott in 2007. But he ran a lacklustre campaign because his heart wasn’t in it and was pipped by Harriet Harman, whose heart always is.

What people like about Johnson is that he lacks the crazed ambition which is the sine qua non of top level political success. The blinkered focus. The ruthless ambition. His top-flight peers all have it, that restless lust for power that never stops. All day, every day. All night. They text you at 3 in the morning, dead sober. But obsessed. Then at five to six the phone rings and it’s them again. On a point of tiny detail. Which doesn’t matter to anyone else. But is important to them. They’re all like it.

But Alan Johnson was not. He was hard-working and ambitious. He had an extremely successful career. He was an excellent minister. But all within limits. Mainly during the very long days, but not the short nights. For all of the very long weeks, often into the weekends. But not all weekend. Not every weekend.

And in the leaving of it, most of all, he demonstrated the sense of proportion which made him unsuited to lead. His shadow chancellorship wasn’t working. Everyone could see it. His heart wasn’t in it and his head wasn’t keeping up.

In those circumstances, a normal politician of Johnson’s seniority drags it out as long as they possibly can, undoing the years of good work, unravelling a decade and a half of goodwill. They slide down the greasy pole, as their muscles lose power and their fingers lose grip, finally collapsing, shivering and sobbing, in a broken and contemptible heap on which their proteges trample. That is how it is done. It is the only way.

Normal politicians end as the only ones in the world who can’t see the tragedy they eventually become. Johnson, not having been issued with the “warped self-image” spectacles that he should have been given, has seen all this quickly and with clarity. He has figured that he has nothing left to prove or achieve; nothing left to do that he wanted to. He was perfectly placed, in every way, to simply call it a day.

It will serve Miliband politically that Ed Balls’ economic views will be better aligned with his own than those of Alan Johnson, who had begun to look like the last Blairite standing. And whose undisguised contempt for Miliband’s leftist revisionism was more insidiously damaging to the Labour revival than the mere opportunity cost of his failure to grasp his brief.

In short, though: exit Johnson, swiftly yet gracefully, with dignity and credibility intact. It is not supposed to be like that. For which, and for the rest of an exemplary life and career, bravo!

Tags: , , , ,

3 Responses to “Johnson: for the life and for the leaving of it – bravo!”

  1. Ryan Thomas says:

    Nice write-up, if a bit over-dramatic. Bit of a sly stab at Harriet Harman, by the way.

  2. Common Sense says:

    One of the reasons that Cameron is proving politically successful as PM (forget the policies) is the fact that he has at least one foot in the box marked ‘normal human being’. The public senses that, and responds to it.

    The likes of Osborne, Balls, Mandelson, Davis, Herman, Hague and, I’m afraid, Miliband are self-evident obsessives. AJ was such a refreshing contrast. We’ll all miss him.

  3. Robert says:

    What you mean Cameron story he knows what it’s like looking after a disabled child with three nurses doing the looking after.

    Yes he is just ordinary.

    Perhaps thats the problem with Johnson he makes a brillient MP and not so good Minister, while the likes of Milibands and Mandy of course is the power and the stupid idea they come from a normal back ground.

Leave a Reply