Alan Johnson: A working class hero
Emma Macorison (pictured left) pays homage to Alan Johnson who resigned as shadow chancellor yesterday. She spent the last six-months shadowing the MP on the Operation Black Vote Parliamentary Shadowing Scheme.
Yesterday Alan Johnson (AJ) resigned as Shadow Chancellor, a post he has held since Ed Miliband appointed him in a surprise move, as it was widely anticipated that Ed Balls or Yvette Cooper would get the job. Presumably Ed felt ‘the affable post man’ would provide an effective contrast against the Eton educated former Bullingdon club member, George Osborne.
Alan was a vocal supporter of Ed’s older brother David in the leadership contest; so having backed the wrong horse would he be punished by being moved to a lesser shadow brief? This would have been unpopular with both the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) and the party membership, as Alan is a hugely popular figure in the party, well liked by Blairites and Bennites alike. The only conceivable move, surely would be a lateral one to the Foreign Office?
I think Alan was as surprised as anyone else when he was appointed Shadow Chancellor. I spent a day shadowing him at the Labour Party Conference a few weeks before the reshuffle and asked him where he thought he might end up? I joked that if he was moved anywhere but the Foreign Office I would stage a protest by dressing up as Spiderman and climbing onto Ed’s roof, never even considering the Treasury as an option.
The next shadowing day was spent with Alan in his constituency, following his appointment to shadow chancellor, and I congratulated him on his new role with the very witty gift of a calculator. He quipped that the brief may turn out to be a ‘poison chalice’.
He got off to a fantastic start with a formidable performance at the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) in October when George Osborne announced devastating, ideological and regressive cuts to raucous cheers from the Coalition benches. Clearly disgusted, AJ lambasted the government “We’ve seen people cheering the deepest cuts to public spending in living memory....for some members opposite this is their ideological objective....this is what they came into politics for.”
After delivering a devastating blow to Clegg “he changed his mind on the deficit between the ballot boxes closing and the doors to his ministerial car opening” he went on to argue that the cuts were too quick, too deep and could end up stifling the economic recovery. Well, the man who joked that he would need to read an ‘Economics for Beginners’ primer clearly knows more about Economics than Osborne. Since the CSR we have seen worrying levels of inflation, increased pressure on the Bank of England to raise interest rates and youth unemployment reaching a record high of 1 million (all before the actual cuts even bite).
Since then there has been high profile differences of opinion with Ed Milliband on tax – namely the 50p rate and graduation tax. But all the polls show, that he is slowly winning credibility on the economy in the eyes of the public. Latest opinion polls show the public’s views on the austerity cuts have changed since the CSR, no longer feeling they are been carried out in a fair or progressive way.
Then there was *that* National Insurance gaffe, which provided Cameron with one of his best ever lines at PMQs “We’ve ended up with a shadow chancellor who can’t count and a Labour leader who doesn’t count” ouch!
So, in light of all this, some may argue that AJ’s resignation may be timely for the Labour party and Ed Miliband's fragile leadership. Social networks and the blogosphere are already abuzz with talk that Ed Balls will be feared by Osborne at the dispatch box, and none can dispute he has a far superior knowledge of Economics than AJ. He may be more successful in winning the argument on the deficit, on telling the public that there is an alternative. But nobody can talk fluent human like AJ.
The loss of Alan Johnson from the front bench will create a void, not only because he is a fantastic communicator and well liked by the public but because they don’t really make politicians like AJ anymore. Raised by his sister on a London council estate, he left school at 15 with no qualifications. He worked as a postman for nineteen years before becoming a full time union official and then the general secretary of what was the Union of Communications Workers before being elected as the Member of Parliament for Hull West and Hessle.
On both sides of the house, the frontbench is made up almost entirely of Oxford educated, former special advisors from very similar backgrounds. With little life experience outside of the Oxford student union and Westminster Village, it’s no wonder the modern day career politician is often accused of being out of touch and unable to relate to the very people they are supposed to represent.
More than his impressive back story, I look to AJ as a political hero because over the last year, when I’ve bombarded him with questions about his life and his career the real twinkle in his eye hasn’t come from regaling me with tails of the gilded offices of state he has held, he actually becomes the most animated when he talks about his constituently work and the people he represents there. Despite effortlessly rising to the very highest ranks of British Politics, Alan has never forgotten the very people who put him into Parliament.
And as a working class, mixed race woman, who grew up on a Council Estate and isn’t University educated – I know that if I ever make it onto those hallowed green benches I am standing on the shoulders of giants which include Bernie Grant and Oona King who kicked open the doors to Parliament and kept the open for subsequent BME politicians, but also on the shoulders of Alan Johnson. As I told him once, after John Lennon – he is my second favourite working class hero!
Emma Macorison, from Dewsbury, is a publicist and member and Labour Party campainger. You can follow her via Twitter @EmmaMacorison