James Forsyth

Alan Johnson’s degree in making life difficult for Ed Miliband

Alan Johnson's degree in making life difficult for Ed Miliband
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There he goes again. Another Alan Johnson interview, another reiteration of his differences of opinion with his leader and another Tory press release claiming Ed Miliband’s writ doesn’t even run in his own shadow Cabinet.

This time, Johnson has told Mary Riddell, “Well, I don’t think [a graduate tax] could [work]. Frankly, there’s a difference of view.” If this was not enough he continued to say, “I feel it’s going to be very difficult to make a graduate tax a workable proposition.”

This must be so frustrating for Ed Miliband. First, it takes some of the heat off the Lib Dems who are all over the place this weekend on the whole university funding question. Second, it hands the coalition a set of easy lines with which to dismiss Labour’s opposition to the increase in fees. Finally, it makes him look weak. Our political culture expects shadow Chancellors to follow the leader not to constantly set out their differences with him.

The irony of all this is that Ed Miliband make a conscious decision after the leadership contest not to be factional, to reach out across the party; hence the appointment of Johnson, a passionate David Miliband supporter, to the biggest job in the shadow Cabinet. But Johnson is abusing the trust placed in him: he’s a canny enough politician to know how all these interviews are going to play. Ed Miliband deserves better, much better from his shadow Chancellor.