Posts Tagged ‘Alan Johnson’

Ed needs to earn the public’s respect

11/11/2014, 04:53:07 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The key to a successful political coup, as Mrs. Beeton would probably have pointed out if she wrote about politics instead of household management, is “first find your assassin”. Labour’s chatterers and plotters are as reluctant as ever to plunge the knife. Hands tremble on the hilt. MPs turn to pacifists when it comes to matters of political murder.

Next, find your replacement. Attempts to press-gang Alan Johnson as an alternative to Ed Miliband amounted to nothing. It was lazy, wishful thinking that he would even entertain the idea. As one of our more human politicians, Johnson knows only too well that you need to be crazy to want to lead a political party and, if you’re not, you’ll soon be driven crazy by trying to lead one.

And, so, here we are. Ed Miliband is weakened by cack-handed internal attacks, but remains in situ – and will do until the result of the 2015 general election is settled. But what has this last week been about?

Unlike most other flare-ups in Labour history, it hasn’t been about policy. Slow and sometimes incoherent, policy development under Ed Miliband has thrown up many interesting ideas and a few genuinely head-turning policies. This is not 1983. Labour is not a lost cause ripping itself apart because of pledges to pull out of Europe, scrap our nukes or nationalise the top 100 companies.

No, this is personal. Miliband’s own performance was the reason for this week’s failed putsch. In moving forward, it is important that he and his team accept this. Many MPs and party figures, spooked by the yawning deficits around leadership and economic credibility, wonder how election victory is possible against such a backdrop.  (Add in jitters about Scotland, UKIP and even the rise of the Greens and the mood quickly becomes febrile). Frankly, he should have been expecting trouble.

Many also cite his inconsistent performances. Again, lessons need to be learned here. How on earth do you make a set-piece conference speech and “forget” to mention immigration and the deficit – the two defining issues of our contemporary political debate? It was unforgivably stupid. (He should have made a second speech closing the party conference and rectified the mistake).

Then there are those who think their leader has a tin ear when it comes to courting swing voters in Middle England. Or those who say the same of him when it comes to working class voters in the party’s heartlands. Others are worried about the lack of support coming from the business community. Or southern voters.  Or even, now, Scots.


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Leadership challenge? You can’t be serious

08/10/2014, 01:15:34 PM

by Rob Marchant

It is always a little unwise to make predictions, as us bloggers occasionally find some time later, to our shame and embarrassment.

But perhaps we can venture one now. If there is a silly season within conference season, it is surely within Lib Dem conference. And this year, a few MPs and journalists have used its abject pointlessness as an excuse to take a break from serious politics.

And, indeed, from reality altogether: they have convinced themselves that a Labour leadership challenge is in the air, as these pieces from the Telegraph and the Mail show.

Only it’s not. Or, at least, it’s incredibly unlikely.

Oh, that’s not to say that some aren’t thinking about it, some even vaguely seriously. It’s always good to check where one’s political stock is, and a dip in the polls is an attractive time to do so.

But there are a lot of good reasons why it is merely fanciful thinking – more a crying into one’s beer in a Manchester hotel bar than a serious, credible campaign briefing.

First, history. Unlike the Tories, Labour is the anti-nasty party; one which gives a sometimes annoying level of benefit-of-the-doubt. It does not generally dump leaders before they have had a chance to lose an election (in fact, it sometimes doesn’t even dump them afterwards, as the 1987 election taught us, even if it really should).

Second, if a leadership challenge has not happened by a half-year before the election, it is a particularly dumb time to try and have one. No-one has time to put together a hole-free policy program in that time, which reflects their own personal stamp.


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If Johnson and Darling return to Labour’s frontbench, two other men are out

18/08/2014, 03:33:16 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The continuing chatter about whether Alan Johnson should return to the shadow cabinet prompts the intriguing question: where would Ed Miliband put him?

In government, Johnson held a number of senior roles including stints as secretary of state for work and pensions, education, health and a final stint as home secretary. As one of Labour’s best known faces, he would surely command a decent perch.

None of his previous postings, however, looks a likely bet. Rising stars Rachel Reeves and Tristram Hunt are making inroads in the welfare and education briefs while Andy Burnham at health and Yvette Cooper at home affairs are too powerful to move without causing Ed Miliband a major headache. Both are solid performers and harbour leadership hopes if Miliband doesn’t manage to cross the threshold of Number Ten next May.

The remaining top roles, shadowing the Treasury and the Foreign Office, are filled by Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander. And they aren’t going anywhere.

Miliband may calculate that he can move anyone he likes in the interests of bringing back a popular figure like Johnson to add weight to his team ahead of the general election. Of course, the dilemma will be doubled if Alastair Darling also returns – assuming the ‘No’ campaign he is leading in Scotland prevails next month.

Johnson’s attributes are obvious enough. A natural communicator, his easy-going, man-in-the-street style contrasts sharply with the crafted but stilted approach of most of the rest of the shadow cabinet. No-one describes him as weird or boring.


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Bring on the éminences grises

16/07/2014, 09:42:18 AM

by Rob Marchant

As silly-season reshuffle madness has gripped the Westminster village the last few days, we at Uncut are obviously above pointless speculation about the Labour reshuffle expected after Conference.

Well, almost. In fact, it’s not so much speculation, rather an observation.

If we were to be brutal, we might observe that both government and opposition benches, if the lights are dim, might occasionally be mistaken for a sixth-form outing to Parliament, rather than a government and a government-in-waiting.

It’s nothing personal against the current bunch. There is talent there. But much of the talent is green. And yes, there is ministerial experience among it – it’s not 1997. But – and excuse the bluntness here – there might also be more important pre-requisites than having held a junior ministerial or middle-ranking Cabinet job for a few years during the fag-end of a thirteen-year Labour administration.

Neither is it just that so many older MPs left in droves at the 2010 election, either, although that is clearly a factor. Or that some of the talented ones who remained, such as David Blunkett or Tessa Jowell, were not given proper jobs to do and chose to opt for a quiet life outside Parliament.

The clincher is this: as we have observed before here, we live in the age of the SpAd (ministerial Special Adviser). The gradual professionalization of politics means that the number of years that any of the current Shadow Cabinet has spent in the outside world is severely limited.


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Labour will need both Darling and Johnson at the next election

02/04/2013, 08:18:51 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Unity should run through Labour like a stick of rock. Following David Miliband’s departure, we should reflect on what this might mean for figures like Alistair Darling and Alan Johnson in the general election campaign.

It seems that Ed Miliband left the door open for his brother to serve on his frontbench but David preferred to run the International Rescue Committee. It also seems to me that Jonathan Freedland has called this correctly by saying this was the best decision for David but may not be for Labour.

Things are not quite so desperate that all Ed can offer the British people is blood, toil, tears and sweat. But it might not be so far off. We are in the slowest economic recovery on record and the fiscal position becomes ever more horrific.

The only quick and easy road for Ed will be to the kind of unhappy position of Francois Hollande, which he created for himself by having “rather pretended to the French that he and they wouldn’t have to make any difficult choices”, as Andrew Rawnsley put it.

We should level with people that life under PM Ed will be a hard slog. But less so than under this government because of the one nation approach that Ed would bring to his task. Yet Gaby Hinsliff has observed of this thematic frame:

“For all I know it may embrace raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, and feel warmly towards brown paper packages tied up with string: it’s not that these ideas are impossibly contradictory, just that cramming too many of them beneath one umbrella term renders it faintly meaningless.”


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Alan should return, but Ed will excel

24/01/2011, 07:00:11 AM

by John Woodcock

Much of what has been written about Alan Johnson since Thursday has read like the obituary of a man who has stepped off the political stage for good.

That need not be the case; I hope he will want to return to the front line before too long.

Commentary pondering whether Alan’s relaxed temperament made his exit inevitable is as poorly-founded as the assertion that a man who excelled as a minister for a decade could be fairly labelled gaffe-prone after a single slip.

Worse is the suggestion that his comeback is unlikely because he will be in his mid-sixties by the next election and therefore past it. It is sad that the generation of politicians which banned age discrimination and abolished the compulsory retirement age seems under pressure to be ever more fresh-faced and youthful (not that fresh-faced youth is a bad thing, you understand).

But while sad for Alan, we are all looking forward to seeing Ed Balls get stuck into George Osborne in the way he did Michael Gove.

Ed excelled in the leadership campaign for his early recognition that it was often those just above the cut off level for targeted support who were among the most disillusioned with Labour by the end of our third term in government.

We will need those instincts in the tough months ahead.

It is, of course, essential that we speak up for current and future generations of college students set to be deprived of vital financial support; that we are angry on behalf of firms who are crying out for a better skills base and can ill-afford to see young people put off from further and higher education.

But we know we must also heed the message on the doorstep from slightly better off families whose children did not generally qualify for extra help. They were cross about that, and rightly demand that we prove we are on their side too.

John Woodcock is Labour and Cooperative MP for Barrow and Furness.

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Friday News Review

21/01/2011, 06:56:02 AM

Good luck Alan

Alan Johnson quit frontline politics after his wife was alleged to have had an affair with his police bodyguard. And last night Scotland Yard confirmed they were carrying out an internal inquiry into the behaviour of the armed officer, from the elite SO1 close protection squad. The Met’s Department of Professional Standards was called in to probe the claims, which emerged hours after Mr Johnson resigned as shadow chancellor. The officer in question is thought to be a detective constable. He faces suspension – at the least – if bosses decide his conduct has fallen short. The bodyguard is said to have worked for him for more than a year, protecting him and his family during trips at home and abroad. Labour veteran Mr Johnson, 60, had earlier announced he was bowing out from the front bench for “personal and family reasons”. The Westminster rumour mill went into overdrive as sources revealed his 20-year marriage had broken down. Labour leader Ed Miliband described him one of the most popular figures in parliament. He said was an “outstanding colleague” who had also been “a great friend for many years”. He added that the resignation had nothing to do with Mr Johnson’s ability to do the job. In his resignation statement Mr Johnson, MP for Hull West, said: “I have decided to resign from the shadow cabinet for personal reasons to do with my family.” – Daily Mirror (more…)

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

20/01/2011, 06:00:15 PM

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. (more…)

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Johnson to resign tonight as shadow chancellor. Balls to replace him.

20/01/2011, 04:47:45 PM

Uncut has learned, from authoritative sources, that Alan Johnson will resign as shadow chancellor tonight. He will be replaced by Ed Balls.

Johnson, a former trade union leader and home secretary, was neither comfortable nor successful in the role. Dissatisfaction with his performance in the key economic brief had built in recent weeks.

In the end, Johnson has pre-empted any further adverse criticism by tendering his resignation and stepping down from the front bench.

Balls, education secretary in Gordon Brown’s government, was chief economic adviser to the treasury – a post normally held by a top civil servant – during Brown’s years as chancellor.

Pugnacious and relentless, he has taken to opposition better than any other shadow minister.

Miliband declined to appoint Balls shadow chancellor when first constructing his shadow cabinet in the autumn. Balls was neither liked nor trusted by his leader, to whom he was felt to present a threat.

This appointment is believed to signal a new accommodation between the two men.

With Balls shadowing the treasury and the more “user-friendly” Miliband in the top job, Labour is strengthened.

He is likely to be replaced as shadow home secretary by his wife, the shadow foreign secretary, Yvette Cooper. She in turn will need to be replaced in a consequent reshuffle.

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Tuesday News Review

11/01/2011, 06:30:18 AM

Europe set to haunt the Tories again

David Cameron faces a serious rebellion from his backbenchers tonight when a bill on the referendum lock goes before the Commons. MPs will debate amendments to the bill, with veteran eurosceptic Bill Cash putting forward a series of radical changes. Tory backbencher Douglas Carswell branded the bill, which would ensure a referendum in the case of a “significant” EU treaty, “smoke and mirrors”. “This bogus EU bill is no substitute for the referendum we were promised. Nothing in this bill will cause the permanent British representatives in Brussels, who really decide Europe policy, to change course,” he wrote on his blog. Mr Cameron originally promised the referendum lock in opposition, when it became clear that his promise of a referendum on the Lisbon treaty would not be possible. But Tory backbenchers have been dismayed by the moderate tone adopted towards the EU from the prime minister and his foreign secretary, William Hague, since they arrived in office.
Combined with the unconcealed pro-European credentials of the Conservatives’ Lib Dem coalition partners, many eurosceptic backbenchers are intensely uncomfortable with the way Britain’s relationship with the EU is being managed. Labour is unimpressed by the law, especially the judicial review aspect, which they say hands power to judges which should be in the hands of elected representatives. “Even the foreign secretary must know this bill is a dogs dinner,” said shadow foreign secretary Yvette Cooper. “This bill is about failed Tory party management not the issues that matter for Britain in Europe. Instead of concentrating on things like growth, exports or cross border crime, William Hague is wasting time trying and failing to keep his eurosceptics happy.” –

Angry Conservatives last night intensified their revolt over Britain’s membership of the European Union ahead of crucial Commons votes tonight. MPs are due to debate the full details of the Government’s European Union Bill. It is designed to prevent any further surrender of power from Westminster to Brussels without a national referendum. But Eurosceptic Tories are threatening to side with Labour in a bid to make the measures far tougher. Bill Cash, Conservative MP for Stone, Staffordshire, last night added an amendment to the Bill seeking to make clear that Britain’s sovereignty lies with Parliament. Despite the growing discontent on Tory backbenches, Government whips were last night relaxed about the debate. One Tory source said: “It does not feel as if this rebellion has really caught alight.” The European Union Bill includes a “sovereignty clause” introducing the so-called “referendum lock” promised in the Conservative election manifesto. This would oblige any future government to hold a referendum before agreeing to a treaty that transfers sovereignty to Brussels. – Daily Express

Cameron defeated over bank bonuses

Downing Street has accepted that it cannot halt large bonuses for bankers and is instead negotiating to make employers disclose how many are given more than £1 million. Despite public anger at the prospect, it admits it holds little sway with banks which are not partly stated-owned. A No 10 source said last night: “Whatever the bonuses are – if they are £7 billion or £3 billion – they will be too big. We are going to get flak and we accept that.” Some Liberal Democrats in the Coalition, including Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, had hoped that the Treasury would look at another bank tax to discourage the bonus culture. But No 10 regards last year’s levy as “a one-off”. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, accused the Coalition of giving banks a tax cut by not renewing the levy imposed by the last government. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that, while the Government wanted restraint, David Cameron would not “micromanage” the banks. “We are not going to set bonus pools for individual banks. We are not going to set pay policy for individual members of staff,” he said. – Daily Telegraph

David Cameron was humiliated yesterday by bank chiefs who insisted he does NOT have a veto over their pay. The PM threatened to torpedo a £2.5million bonus for Stephen Hester, head of Royal Bank of Scotland – a bank saved with £20billion of taxpayers’ cash. The PM boasted in a weekend TV interview that he ¬“absolutely” had a veto over RBS bonuses. But 24 hours later, the bank insisted he does not have the power to stop Mr Hester ¬pocketing the bonus. An RBS spokesman said: “There isn’t a formal veto.” He added that RBS agreed to let the body set up to run the nationalised banks decide the total bonuses paid to its workforce last year in return for extra government support. But the arrangement was a “one-off”, he stressed. Shadow treasury minister Chris Leslie said Mr Cameron had landed himself in an “embarrassing muddle”. – Daily Mirror

Miliband is forced to defend Johnson

Ed Miliband insisted yesterday that Alan Johnson DOES know what he’s talking about – as a furious bank bonus row erupted. The Labour leader’s vote of confidence in his bungling Shadow Chancellor came as it emerged ministers are thrashing out a deal with bankers to be more open. Mr Johnson said employers paid National Insurance at 21 per cent. The figure is 12.8. He has also admitted needing an “economics for beginners” primer, seemed confused about when Labour’s cuts were due to start and unsure how long it will take to reduce the deficit. With Mr Johnson at his side, Mr Miliband told a press conference: “Alan clearly knows about these things. It’s the big things that matter in politics. The things that matter are your instincts.” – The Sun

Ed Miliband yesterday backed Shadow Chancellor Alan Johnson despite his National Insurance gaffe. The Labour leader said he would trust Mr Johnson’s judgment “any day” over George Osborne’s. He was speaking after Mr Johnson was caught out on TV wrongly saying the rate of NI contributions was 20% when it is 12.8%. It was his second slip-up in a week, prompting questions about whether he is the right man for the job. Last week Mr Johnson had to correct himself after he forgot the date by which Labour hoped to halve the deficit. Asked about the comments, Mr Milband said: “Alan clearly knows about these things. It’s the big things that matter.” – Daily Mirror

Labour lead by eight points

Labour has opened up an eight-point lead in the latest ComRes survey for The Independent as the Conservatives start to feel a backlash over spending cuts and the rise in VAT. It shows Labour on 42 per cent, up three points since the most recent ComRes poll for The Independent on Sunday three weeks ago, the Conservatives on 34 per cent (down three), the Liberal Democrats on 12 per cent (up one point) and other parties 12 per cent (down one). This is the biggest Labour lead, and the Tories’ lowest share of the vote, in any poll since last May’s general election and the largest Labour lead since ComRes began polling for The Independent in 2006. The figures would give Labour an overall majority of 102 at the next election if it were fought in the current first-past-the-post system. According to ComRes, the Tories trail Labour among voters in every age group below 55 and in every region of Britain except the Midlands. Labour enjoys a narrow one-point lead among the AB top social group. – Independent

Minister in fishy embarrassment

Fisheries minister Richard Benyon has been caught out by TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall after the politician revealed his lack of knowledge about Britain’s most common fish. Benyon was able to pick out only cod and monkfish from 12 of the most obvious fish and, after a second chance, managed to identify pollock too. However, he was unable to identify favourites such as halibut, haddock and plaice. Fisheries minister Richard Benyon could identify only three of 12 common fish. The minister makes the gaffe on the TV quiz show Hugh’s Fish Fight, which screens on Channel 4 tomorrow. He was clearly nervous about his level of knowledge when presented with the task. ‘Oh God, this is so cruel. I’m a landlubber,’ says Mr Benyon. – Daily Mail

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