James Forsyth

What Johnson offers Labour

What Johnson offers Labour
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As Pete says, it is hard to see Alan Johnson’s article in The Times today as anything other than another flash of leadership leg from him. The tectonic plates do seem to be shifting on the Labour side. There appears to have been a hardening of attitudes, a recognition that their only chance of avoiding disaster is to dump Brown after June 4th. Whether that means any of them will have the courage to tell Brown to his face that he has to go is another matter.

What could Johnson do for Labour? So much public anger is focused on Brown that his removal would drain a considerable amount of the poison away. Second, Johnson, who has clean hands on expenses, could come up with a whole raft of radical constitutional proposals—from PR to fixed term parliaments—that the Conservatives would oppose for both principled and self-interested reasons. This, though, would risk leaving Cameron looking like the defender of the discredited status quo. Johnson with his background and light touch is also perfectly placed to take advantage of the revival of the Tory toff stereotype caused by all these stories about moats, swimming pools, gardeners and the like.

To my mind, Johnson is at this moment a better bet for Labour than Brown.  But the Tories can take heart from his vulnerabilities. First, Johnson doesn’t come across nearly as well as the Westminster Village thinks he does. Second, he lacks gravitas and has compounded that problem by saying he isn’t up to the job. Given the state of the economy, the public might quickly decide Johnson was right, that he isn't up to being PM. Finally, if anger grows at how the public sector is escaping the worst of the recession, then the deal Johnson cut with the unions on pensions could come back to bite him.  

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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