Alan Johnson resigns as shadow chancellor

Ed Balls named as shadow chancellor as Johnson stands down “for personal reasons”.

Alan Johnson has just announced his resignation as shadow chancellor "for personal reasons". After a strong start to 2011, Ed Miliband now faces the biggest crisis of his leadership. Ed Balls has been named as Johnson's replacement, with Yvette Cooper taking over from her husband as shadow home secretary. Douglas Alexander will replace Cooper as shadow foreign secretary.

Below is the full text of Johnson's statement:

I have decided to resign from the shadow cabinet for personal reasons to do with my family. I have found it difficult to cope with these personal issues in my private life whilst carrying out an important front-bench role.

I am grateful to Ed Miliband for giving me the opportunity to serve as shadow chancellor of the exchequer. He is proving to be a formidable leader of the Labour Party and has shown me nothing but support and kindness.

My time in parliament will now be dedicated to serving my constituents and supporting the Labour Party. I will make no further comment about this matter.

After Johnson's recent political troubles, his decision to stand down comes as no surprise. His public disagreements with Ed Miliband over the 50p tax rate and the graduate tax damaged his cause from the start. Then, in quick succession, he failed to name the employers' rate of National Insurance, mistakenly suggested that VAT applied to food and appeared unsure of his own party's deficit reduction plan.

He was swiftly identified by the Tories as the weak link in Labour's armoury and was ridiculed by David Cameron at PMQs (Johnson was a notable absence this week). The man who was once spoken of as a future Labour leader became the laughing stock of Westminster.

Yet everything we're hearing suggests the decision was taken for purely personal reasons. There is nothing to suggest he was pushed out by Ed Miliband, who attempted to persuade him to stay. We can expect the Tories to focus on the appointment of Balls, the true "son of Brown", rather than the departure of Johnson.

Below is the new shadow cabinet.

Leader of the Opposition
Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Shadow Deputy Prime Minister and Shadow Secretary of State for International Development
Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
Rt Hon Ed Balls MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP

Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities
Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP

Chief Whip
Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Election Co-ordinator
Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP

Shadow Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice (with responsibility for political and constitutional reform)
Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (with responsibility for the policy review)
Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills
Rt Hon John Denham MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Health
Rt Hon John Healey MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Defence
Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP

Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Angela Eagle MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
Meg Hillier MP

Shadow Leader of the House of Commons
Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Transport
Maria Eagle MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Mary Creagh MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Rt Hon Shaun Woodward MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland
Ann McKechin MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Wales
Rt Hon Peter Hain MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Ivan Lewis MP

Shadow Leader of the House of Lords
Rt Hon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Olympics
Rt Hon Tessa Jowell MP

Lords Chief Whip
Rt Hon Lord Bassam of Brighton

Shadow Attorney General
Rt Hon Baroness Scotland of Ashtal QC

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Cameron in Nuneaton. Photo: Getty
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Why fewer of us want a long-term relationship ... with a political party

In 2015, 38 per cent of voters backed a different party to the one they supported in 2010. So what does the rise of swing voters mean for British politics?

For decades political parties have competed furiously for one of the great prizes of British politics: the affections of the swing voter. It wasn’t that long ago that there were relatively few political swingers: until the 1990s, fewer than a quarter of voters would switch parties from one election to the next.

Yet that once relatively rare breed is becoming increasingly common, which means party campaigners are going to have to come up with new tactical thinking. The British Election Study survey panels, conducted episodically over the last fifty years, are unique in that they are able to track the same voters from one election to the next, unlike more conventional opinion polls that only look at a snapshot of voters at a given time. Using these studies, you can identify the percentage of voters who switch their vote from one party to another between each pair of elections since 1966 when such data was first collected.

In 1966 only around 13 per cent of voters had changed their minds since the previous election in 1964. Since then, the proportion of swingers has been steadily increasing, and by 2015, 38 per cent of voters backed a different party to the one they supported in 2010.

The increase in swing voters is pretty consistent. The only exceptions are between February and October 1974, when (understandably) fewer voters changed their minds in eight months than switched in the preceding four years, and between 1997 and 2001, when the electoral dominance of New Labour under Tony Blair held back the tide for a time. These two exceptions aside, the increase has been constant election-on-election.

A lot of vote shifting can go on even between elections where the overall result remains stable. In 2001, for example, more people switched votes than in any election before 1997, with a surprising level of turmoil beneath the surface stability. While these largely cancelled out on that occasion, it set the stage for more dramatic changes in the parties’ votes later on.

So British voters now seem more likely than ever to jump from party to party. But who exactly are these swingers? Are they disillusioned former party loyalists? Or have British voters simply stopped getting into a serious relationship with the parties in the first place? We can get some insight into this using data from the yearly British Social Attitudes Survey, looking at the number of respondents who say that they do not identify with any of the political parties (party identifiers tend to switch much less often) when they are asked ‘Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a supporter of any one political party?’ and then ‘Do you think of yourself as a little closer to one political party than to the others?’ if they say no to the first question. The graph below combines data from 1984 to 2013. Each line represents people who were born in a different year. Higher lines mean that there are more people who do not identify with a political party. So, for instance, voters born in 1955 started with very low levels of non-identification (22 per cent), which have gradually risen to 44 per cent in the latest survey. Most of the lines on the graph go up over time, which shows that almost all generations are falling out of love with the parties.

However, an acquired taste in swinging among the older generations is dwarfed by the promiscuous younger generations – shown by the dashed lines – most of whom never form an attachment to a party at all. Each generation in the data has been less committed to the parties than the previous generation was at the same age, with around 60 per cent of the youngest generation – those born since 1985 – expressing no attachment to any political party.

Since most of this change has been a generational shift, it may be a long road back for the parties. Loyalty to parties is often handed down in families, with children inheriting their parents’ commitment to a party. Now that this process has broken down, and younger generations have lost their attachment to parties, they may in turn pass on this political detachment to their children.

The majority of younger voters have simply never grown up with the idea of getting into a long-term relationship with a political party, so they may never settle down. Many Labour MPs were outraged when it turned out that lots of the new members who joined up to vote for Jeremy Corbyn had voted for the Green Party just a few months before, but this may simply reflect the political approach of a generation who see parties as needing to earn their vote each time rather than commanding lasting, even unconditional loyalty.

If Britain’s newfound taste for swinging isn’t going to disappear any time soon, what does it mean for party competition? In the past most people had settled partisan views, which seldom changed. General elections could be won by attracting the relatively small group of voters who hadn’t made up their minds and could very easily vote for either of the two main parties, so political parties based their strategies around mobilising their core voters and targeting the few waverers. While they worried about traditional loyalists not turning up to the polls, the parties could be assured of their supporters’ votes as long as they got them to the voting booth.

Nowadays, swing voters are no longer a small section of the electorate who are being pulled back and forth by the parties, but a substantial chunk of all voters. This helps to explain why politicians have been so surprised by the sudden rise of new parties competing for groups previously thought to be reliable supporters. The new parties that have entered British politics have also allowed voters to express their views on issues that don’t fall neatly into traditional left– right politics such as immigration (UKIP) or Scottish independence (the SNP). This in turn has posed a dilemma for the traditional parties, who are pulled in multiple directions trying to stop their voters being tempted away.

This may just be the start. If the number of swing voters stays this high, the parties will have to get used to defending themselves on multiple fronts.

This is an extract from More Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box, edited by Philip Cowley and Robert Ford.