Sunday, September 17, 2006

Johnson - the media favourite

The Observer has a profile of Alan Johnson, who is clearly shaping up to be the stop-Brown candidate for the Leadership. As Skipper has pointed out Johnson does have a compelling "narrative": ophaned at 12, brought up by his sister, worked as a postman, background in the trade union movement. (Then again, he is a grammar school boy, although he left at 15 with no qualifications). And he is English. He also appears to have an affable media-friendly persona. But many trade unionists distrust him and the big unions are likely to advise their members not to vote for him. There seems to be a feeling abroad that, after Blair, Labour should steer just a little to the left. (I suspect that many Labour members think that the privatisation mania and the consultancy scam has gone too far). Johnson's problem is that he is seen as too close to Blair. Johnson is aware of this. In the Observer article he tries to present a "left face"; tapping into an emotive Labour issue: school selection. He says: "I'm against selection, full stop", recalling that his daughter failed the 11-plus. But then he adds: "I think the Prime Minister is as well". If Johnson thinks Blair is against selection he is as dim as a forty watt bulb. Since he is plainly a shrewd , smart and ambitious political operator (despite his risible claim that he just "drifts along") he cannot believe this. Indeed, in the article he tells us of his support for faith schools (which clearly practice selection) and city academies. He also says - despite the evidence to the contrary - that the debt-burden created by university tuition fees will not deter working-class students from going to university (He thinks that is "patronising". No it isn't, its true). Johnson will run as a Blairite trying not to sound too much of a Blairite (he will probably enjoy Blair's unofficial support). It won't wash. Despite the acres of favourable newspaper coverage (one assumes this is at least partly orchestrated by the Blair camp) an affable manner and an English pedigree will not be sufficient to win him the Leadership. It is possible he could win the Deputy Leadership; but I think on balance that is unlikely also.


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