Menu Close

If Ed Miliband is not the person to lead Labour into an election, is Alan Johnson?

True voice of Labour? Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

The more that Labour insists the support for Ed Miliband is rock solid, the less the public are inclined to believe the party. It’s not just the open criticism from John Cruddas, there’s all the reading between the lines of what others in the party are saying. A textual analysis expert would have a field day. The solidarity around Ed is a sham and as flimsy as some of the policies he is proposing.

It is clear that Ed Miliband is not the person to lead Labour to victory next year. No matter what he says or does, opinions on Britain’s doorsteps are not favourable. He just can’t seem to get the working class voters to take him or Labour seriously. A poll last week puts Labour at 36%, just 1 point ahead of the Tories.

By rallying round their beleaguered leader, the inexperience of Miliband’s acolytes is being exposed. There is no doubt they are bright, indeed their academic credentials are unquestionable, but that alone doesn’t make them good politicians. Their pursuit of their leader’s favours and benevolence is jeopardising Labour’s chances of getting back into power. When Labour loses the next general election it will be the fault of those who lacked the backbone to do something before it was too late.

Margaret Thatcher once said her greatest achievement was Tony Blair. Well David Cameron’s most powerful weapon is Ed Miliband. What the Labour Party needs is a leader of substance, someone who’s been around the block a bit and can connect with a range of supporters across the social spectrum.


One Labour leader-in-waiting is Alan Johnson – and he couldn’t be more different to Miliband and his inner circle. His background is more traditional, he’s slightly “old Labour”, but someone who recognises the need to look forward rather than back. Whenever he’s interviewed or appears on the Question Time panel, Johnson isn’t afraid to stray from the rehearsed party line – so you get a sense of what he, Alan Johnson, really thinks. He is thoughtful, speaks his mind and talks common sense. His responses are not always as polished as some of the others, but that’s because they are his views and not the creation of some back-room spin doctor. He comes across as a man you can trust - now there’s a novelty.

Last week, his performance on Question Time galvanised social media, trending on Twitter with a majority of people’s messages wondering why this assured performer was not the leader of the Labour Party and preparing to lead a confident opposition into a crucial election in 10 months’ time.

Twitter-storm of approval. Twitter

Johnson’s credentials to lead Labour are unquestionable. He is unapologetically a working-class boy made good through his own determination and hard work. There was no public school, no Oxford PPE, and no political heritage to piggyback on. It was grammar school, followed by stacking shelves in Tesco. He then became a postman and trade union activist, ending up as general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, before entering politics. As a privy counsellor, and having held several senior ministerial posts, Johnson has the experience needed to lead the party.

Brought up in Notting Hill in West London, before it was smart, Johnson experienced life in Southam Street. A street of properties that were condemned, yet inhabited by families in deprivation for decades. His father came and went, and provided little financial support. His mother endured ill health but worked incessantly to keep food on the table; keeping the electricity connected was altogether a different matter. He’s not only seen poverty but experienced it first hand. He clearly hasn’t forgotten those days and can show compassion for those living on the breadline now. Johnson will have no truck with the noxious idea that people visit food banks and resort to soup kitchens as a lifestyle choice.

At a recent event billed as “An Evening With Alan Johnson” in Worthing, he was subtly critical of the way that politics and those involved in them has changed over the years. In responding to questions with comments such as: “Ed has decided the best way is…” he laced his clear sense of loyalty, with a healthy hint of scepticism.

Johnson obviously regrets the decline of the traditional Labour politician’s career path: often a career in politics was developed through trade union activism and in pursuance of deep-rooted ideological values. A political apprenticeship. In its place we have a generation of career politicians – with their Oxbridge PPEs – and, while Johnson didn’t say this – probably little concern for which party they represent, as long as the get a seat.

There are a number of questions surrounding Johnson’s ability to lead Labour in the future. First, does he want to? He’s certainly never put himself up as a challenger to Miliband, in fact he supported Ed’s brother David in the leadership contest. Second, his age. At 64 many might think he is too old – but with age comes much experience. Will Labour have the courage to go for someone on the left of the political spectrum. Someone as different from the incumbent and his predecessor Tony Blair as you could possibly get? I think not – and that is a tragedy.

Want to write?

Write an article and join a growing community of more than 124,700 academics and researchers from 3,973 institutions.

Register now