Peter Hoskin

Alan Johnson, from affable to aggressive  

Alan Johnson, from affable to aggressive  
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If Alan Johnson continues as he has started, then he may be a surlier, snarlier shadow chancellor than many of us expected. He's got an article in today's News of the World and an interview in The Observer – and, in both, he's on unusually combative form. Osborne's cuts are labelled as "deep and irresponsible," and the VAT rise is highlighted as a measure that will affect "those on middle and low incomes the most." Johnson even claims, with Balls-like stridency, that the coalition could drag us screaming into double-dip.

And there's more. With a disingenuousness that would impress even Gordon Brown, Johnson glowers that the coalition's cuts are deeper than those during the Thatcher years. Depending on which metric you use, that's true enough. But the shadow chancellor must have forgotten that both Alistair Darling and Liam Byrne admitted the same when it came to Labour's plans. I suppose these details don't matter when you're trying to caricature the nasty Tories and their nastier cuts.

Not that this is too surprising. Labour are now in the business of opposition, and business demands a tough exterior. Far more important is the actual policy that lies behind the rhetoric – and, on that front, there are some encouraging signs. In the News of the World, Johnson backs the Darling plan once again (even if he does create some wiggle room by adding the proviso, "if economic circumstances allow"). So for now, at least, Balls-onomics remains off the political agenda. Long may that continue.