Alan Johnson: Labour’s Lost Leader


Why are so many Labour members and supporters deciding to support Jeremy Corbyn? The simple, and most plausible answer, is that as a person he represents them better than any of the three Oxbridge educated, uninteresting, unopinionated, and frankly boring establishment candidates also in the race.

There is however one rather particular and important ‘elephant in the room‘ for anyone considering supporting Mr Corbyn. The SNP will renounce their desire for Scottish independence before the British public will elect a man so unrepentantly out of touch with the political centre. In fact, looking at what happened in 1983, when the party last fielded such a candidate, I’d go so far to say that the Lib Dems would have a better than evens chance of coming second in any election involving Mr Corbyn as Labour leader.

Surely, then, there must be someone in the parliamentary Labour party both more electable than ‘Comrade’ Corbyn but more in touch with the party base than Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall.

Enter Alan Johnson, former postman and Trade Union Baron who served in several high level Cabinet posts under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and a man many expected to stand for – and win – the leadership of the party after Ed Miliband resigned. Mr Johnson, who in a poll for The Sunday Times came out as the only person among potential leaders, save former MP David Miliband, with the potential to make more people want to support Labour rather than less, has been the MP for West Hull and Hessle since 1997 and was Shadow Chancellor in the last Parliament before standing down for personal reasons in 2011.

Not only has he got the real experience necessary to competently lead Labour, and possibly the nation, but he boasts both a traditional working class background, and a popular touch many politicians can only dream of. Neither an illogical ideologue (a la Corbyn) nor an unpopular populist (a la Burnham, Cooper and Kendall) he could so easily be the bridge the party is looking for between the 13 years of large majorities under Blair and Brown and the need for someone with that progressive common touch after the disaster of Ed Miliband, whose loss in May was arguably attributable to his frankly weird demeanour.

Unluckily for Labour he is not on the ballot papers this summer. That part of him which makes him so appealing to those of us bored of years of generic factory-made politicians is perhaps also the reason why he is unlikely to ever run for high public office. His lack of political ambition and desire for a normal family life are the responses he would likely give to anyone asking him to account for his failure to launch what would have been a highly credible campaign for leader.

For now Labour members and affiliates are stuck with a choice between three candidates seemingly devoid of a political heart and one devoid of a political head. Unlike some of my fellow non-Labourites I am not eligible to vote, so will not dare to assess which path offers the best rewards to a party seemingly unable to reconcile itself on a common approach for the future. But I shall be watching proceedings keenly, and hoping that the human and sincere brand of politics which Alan Johnson so excellently could have brought to the table will eventually resurface in time for a credible opposition to emerge before the next General Election.


Final year History student, Chair of Romsey and Southampton North CF and former President of the Southampton Debating Union. Follow me on Twitter @realBradBell

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