Musical Chairs at Dorneywood
Disloyalty accounts for around 51% of politics (the remaining 49% being a combination of spin, nonsense, compromise and loose consensus).
Recent weeks in the Labour Party haven't deviated from this little formula. Firstly the party failed to unite around Charles Clarke in his hour–of–need (although put in their shoes I think I'd do the same), and more recently it has been open–season on John Prescott's position following his affairs and general lack of a raison d'etre.
Those who haven't reached the full potential of their political careers (Harman, Benn, Johnson, Hain, perhaps Jack Straw too), are taking this moment to jockey for a position which the last nine years have proven to be immensely important to the party, if not to the country as a whole. Prescott has been many things, and these things have often been derogatory, but one essential role he has played is a bridge from the left of the Party to the New Labour core.
With Gordon "charisma of a sprout" Brown destined for Number 10, and considering his apparent devotion to the New Labour cause, the occupant of Dorneywood again needs to be a bridge between the PM and the 'rest' of the party. Madeleine Bunting in the Guardian today says that Labour has become disconnected from those who it purports to represent, because its leaders have become used to
holidays with the Berlusconis; a taste for property and investments; thousands of pounds on hairdressing budgets
rather than working as a milkman, engineer or postman.
Which brings me neatly to Alan Johnson. The man who knows Dorneywood already (from the days when he was the postman in the local area) seems to be perfect for the job, so long as Gordon's date with destiny comes true. Otherwise he'd be a very popular potential leader.
Johnson's a true unionist, but one that has firmly converted to the church of the New Labourites. Yet he still seems to connect with the voters that just about everyone outside of the Labour Party would say is a rarity amongst Labour ministers. Johnson only came into the Commons in 1997 and is supposed to be one of the most vigorous supporters of electoral reform, which can only be a good thing.
He still refers to allies as comrades but in a recent speech to a group of left–wingers made promising noises that suggested he could bring the Labour party along with a potential Johnson–led Labour leadership. He emphasised "economic development–as–freedom", "the democratization of everyday life" and "faith in the capacities of our fellows". These are not words you hear from Blair and Brown. They appeal to trade unionists. But they also appeal to the typical citizen without being so vague as to avoid possible contradiction (see Michael Howard's statement of beliefs before the 2005 election).
That is why, despite what Martin Kettle says, the deputy leadership of the Labour Party should matter to real people. The contest shouldn't be a matter of putting in a female candidate for the sake of it, or of finding a counterbalance for Brown.
And yes, the contest is premature, but it represents the knowledge that Labour backbenchers can attempt to oust the Deputy PM in a way which they can only dream of when it comes to Blair.
But when the contest does, inevitably happen, what Alan Johnson would bring to the deputy leadership – and make the role much more important to the public – is a sense of the common touch and the sense of purpose which nine years of government seems to have drained from the Labour party.