Will it be Boris Johnson v Alan Johnson in 2012?

Former Labour cabinet minister “urged to run” for London mayor.

Once seen as the popular choice to replace Gordon Brown as leader of the Labour Party, Alan Johnson was quick to rule himself out of the job last week and back his former cabinet colleague David Miliband.

Now it seems Johnson may soon be in the running for another leadership position -- that of London mayor. According to the London Evening Standard's Paul Waugh, "Johnson is being urged by pals to run against Boris Johnson". The next mayoral elections are in 2012 and Waugh notes:

Allies of the former home secretary would love to see a "Johnson v Johnson" contest and believe their man is the type of big figure needed to knock out Boris.

A skilled media performer, AJ's easy charm and quick wit would ensure a mouth-watering clash with Bojo. But he also has impeccable Londoner credentials.

Born and bred in Notting Hill when it was an impoverished collection of tenements rather than the Cameroonian haven it is today, he was brought up by his teenage sister after his mother died. He then became a London postie -- and can still remember the streets he pounded across the city -- before rising to become leader of the postal workers' union and then an MP.

It's a tempting prospect for any would-be Labour candidate. Not only would you oversee a £3bn budget and inherit the Olympics, you would also become (bar a premature collapse of the Lib-Con coalition) the most powerful Labour politician in the land.

So will it be BoJo versus AJ in two years' time? It's an intriguing prospect.

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Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.