Friday, 8 October 2010

Why Alan Johnson?

As stupid choices go, there can't be many dumber than Ed Miliband's decision to make Alan Johnson the shadow chancellor ahead of Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper.

You've got to wonder what's going on in Ed Miliband's head. On the one hand you have a couple of Keynesian economists who favour an agenda more in tune with public opinion than Osborne's frenzied cutting and Alastair Darling's "slow and shallow" cuts. On the other you have Alan Johnson, a cabinet minister so useless, so compromised by Blairite authoritarianism and neoliberalism that even the union he once ran refused to back him in 2007 for deputy leader. I would have thought it a no-brainer. But no, Ed's decision seems counter-intuitive for counter-intuition's sake.

So what the hell is happening? I think there are two interrelated things going on.

1) Ed Miliband is still shit-scared of the press. Were Balls or Cooper heading up the response to the Autumn Spending Review Osborne would have faced a social democratic critique. That would have played well in the country away from the Westminster Village, but not in the medialand Ed Miliband inhabits. As we
have seen before, leading politicians seek to inhabit the domain of non-punishment. For the sake of an easy ride in a declining press, our shiny new leader is prepared to sacrifice a coherent alternative to Tory/LibDem cuts so he won't be dogged by the 'Red Ed' tag.

2) When the wheels came off Brown's premiership, the Blairites proved time and again to be a bunch of treacherous bastards. Ed is all too aware that if he's seen to stumble the knives will come out. And the Blairites too are aware there's a question mark over his legitimacy as leader due to the circumstances of his election. By appointing an (inexplicably) popular Blairista as shadow chancellor, he binds them to his leadership. As the old saying goes, keep your friends close ...

21 comments:

Phil said...

Your point 2), plus
a. Johnson just isn't going to shine as Shadow Chancellor; that, and his eventual demotion, will do his strand of the Labour Right no good at all
b. Balls would have taken the Shadow Chancellorship as a consolation prize for not getting the leadership - and, with Balls being seen as a Brownite, the analogy with Blair/Brown would be irresistible (and would do Miliband no good at all).

It is a bit 'Westminster village', but I think viewed in terms of establishing Miliband's position as leader it makes a lot of sense.

Danni said...

Regretting joining Labour yet Phil?

Phil said...

Perhaps Phil, that is Machiavellian cunning worthy of our Florentine friend himself. But the latter clash would have much less force had Cooper been appointed. As it stands, she's wasted in the shadow foreign office brief.

No Danni, I don't. How's building that left alternative to Labour coming along?

Anonymous said...

I still think Labours got to go a lot further to get me back, but I can understand why Miliband is not willing to do as people thought he should .

With balls and Cooper to close I think he would have spent to much time looking over his shoulder to see which one had the knife.

Boffy said...

I think from some of the comments made on last night's "Question Time" - actually some of his Father's "talent" must have rubbed off on Max Moseley because he was by far the most lucid - about the extent to which MP's are scared stiff of the Murdoch Empire targetting them, the explanation is clearly fear of the press. According to Kavanagh, the first person Miliband rang was Murdoch.

lurker said...

What's worse, he's an authentic member of the working class! Disaster!

Maybe he's "Inexplicably" popular because he is a more authentic voice of the people than your ilk will ever be?

Phil said...

Authentic my arse. He may have come from the working class, but to continue to describe him as such would be as meaningful as regarding Alan Sugar as a proletarian.

And what exactly is my "ilk"? A socialist that actually gives a shit about working class people?

Anonymous said...

have we run out of educated socialists-a shadow chancellor without a single o level

TGR Worzel said...

Johnson seemed to be grinning like a Cheshire cat when interviewed for the TV news earlier today, soon after the news broke. That always makes me suspicious. I like to see politicians to be weighed down by the gravity of what they have been asked to do...

As for Balls & Cooper. Both have one major handicap. They were in the last Labour Government, and thus have collective responsibility (as has Ed) for the monumental cock-up with the economy that has been left for others to sort out...

I'd have preferred to see lots of new faces, rather than the old ones shuffled around.

It would be much easier to wipe the slate clean, if the old guard have completely retired from front-line politics...

Anonymous said...

Why bother having elections at all? Just phone Murdoch and ask him who should be the next PM

john from Biddulph said...

Very disappointed! Alan Johnson believes that Alistar Darling's halving the deficit in 4 years is about right. Hardly an Alternative Economic Policy!

Anonymous said...

No O levels or A levels bit like that other crap minister Nye Bevan, hold on did he not get all the welfare up and going while being thick......Bloody commie.

Boffy said...

Actually, I thought it was the Liberal Asquith who introduced Old Age Pensions, The Tory Chamberalin who introduced many of the other aspects of Welfare in the 1920's, the Liberal Beveridge who wrote a report that basically accepted all those reforms, and put them in a form suitable for legislation, and the Labourite Bevan who implemented part of them, having to water it down because of opposition from within the ranks fo the Medical Profession, and who himself resigned, because it was shortly after watered down even more.

Mark P said...

Well that imaginary shift to the left by New Labour didn't last long, did it?

James Bloodworth said...

What on earth does Alan Johnson know about economics compared to Balls?

And what is the point of having as shadow chancellor a man who barely differs from the Tories in economic agenda?

I'd rather just let the Tories do the dirty work and keep my hands clean.

I fear we have yet another Labour leader who is so worried about what the quasi-fascist press will say that he is prepared to outflank the Tories for power for power's sake.

I know it's a unfair to say that this early on. But would anyone bet against it?

The fact that he even bothered to bring up the "red Ed" stuff shows he's clearly way too concerned about what the papers say.

John Whitley said...

And to think barely 10 days ago people on the left greeted 'Red Ed's victory as the harbinger of the new democratic socialist order. It's true what they say about a week in politics.

We are so fucked.

Simon said...

As terrible as Alan Johnson will be as Shadow Chancellor, there may be another side to this. Maybe Ed Miliband wants to get notorious authoritarian Alan Johnson out of the Home portfolio in order to do a U-turn on New Labour's civil liberties record.

That did seem to be the only criticism he made of the Labour Government that was sincere.

@japglish said...

So much of politics is relative - personally, was overjoyed to see Ed beat his brother, even though I voted for the other Ed. I was under no illusions. It was clear he would track right as soon as it was in the bag BUT it was clear that EM would repudiate the Iraq War and DM would not. Without that, Labour had no chance of rebuilding an anti-Tory alliance. I voted for Balls because: a) I agree with him about the need to spend your way through the bad times b) because he's an effective politician who socked it to the Tories even whilst other candidates were busy talking to themselves. The decision to put Johnson in the key job is politically shrewd in the short term, protecting the weak leader from a Balls hegemony and kiss-arsing the Blairites, but stupid in the long term where Labour really need a strikingly alternative view of economic progress, society and the role of the state. Meanwhile, my loathing for the Tories, visceral, profound and personal, is so strong that I will fall into line behind the new guy and hope for the best.

Gary Elsby said...

Phil,just nailing Blairites and Bairism does absolutely nothing.
To criticise Johnson for not having a qualification to do the job is just plain nuts. Are you a snob? I think it's great that ordinary people can rise to the best roles in serving this Country, regardless of prejudices being promoted by people such as yourself.
What's it like being in a party that rigs elections?

Phil said...

I've gone through my post with a fine tooth comb and cannot find the bit where Alan Johnson is criticised for not being "qualified". Nice try, Gary.

Rick said...

Phil said...

"Authentic my arse. He may have come from the working class, but to continue to describe him as such would be as meaningful as regarding Alan Sugar as a proletarian."

Bear in mind that a parallel between today's rich countries' working class and Marx's proletariat is probably not much more meaningful.