Alan Johnson speaks at the Labour conference in 2010. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Alan Johnson should return to the shadow cabinet, says Mary Creagh

Shadow transport secretary says former cabinet minister has "a huge contribution still to make to politics".

After David Cameron's Night of the Long Knives, Ed Miliband is likely to take the chance to freshen his top team before the general election. As I've previously reported, Miliband may use his final reshuffle to achieve gender parity in the shadow cabinet, fulfilling a pledge he made during the Labour leadership election. At present, women make up 44 per cent of the his team, putting him within touching distance of his target. By contrast, even after Cameron's recent reshuffle, just 25 per cent of the cabinet are female. Lucy Powell, the shadow childcare minister, and Luciana Berger, the shadow public health minister, are two of those tipped for promotion by party insiders. 

But while Miliband has long championed "the new generation" (31 per cent of his shadow cabinet are 2010ers), others in Labour are urging him to bring back "big beasts" from the past, with Alan Johnson the most popular choice. Tom Watson, Len McCluskey and John Prescott have all called for the former home secretary to return to the shadow cabinet. 

Now, in an interview with the NS, Mary Creagh has added her voice to those backing a Johnson comeback. She told me: 

I would love Alan to come back into the shadow cabinet. I think he’s fantastic ... He's got a huge contribution still to make to politics. 

She added: "But I also want him to keep writing his books, because they’re fantastic too. I read This Boy; I thought it was wonderful, I cried when I read when it, it was just so incredibly moving. You understand where Alan comes from in a completely different way, but it was also a beautiful tribute to the west London working class life that he had. 

"He showed a different world and a different approach, and a different model of fatherhood. But also the generosity of the people around them, giving them a box of groceries because they never quite had enough food.

"So would I want to see Alan come back? Yeh, definitely. I think Alan’s got a huge contribution still to make to politics."

But for someone to come back, someone else has to make way. Ahead of Miliband's reshuffle, then (expected after Labour's conference), some of Creagh's shadow cabinet colleagues face a nervous wait. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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George Osborne's surplus target is under threat without greater austerity

The IFS exposes the Chancellor's lack of breathing space.

At the end of the last year, I noted how George Osborne's stock, which rose dramatically after the general election, had begun to plummet. His ratings among Tory members and the electorate fell after the tax credits imbroglio and he was booed at the Star Wars premiere (a moment which recalled his past humbling at the Paralympics opening ceremony). 

Matters have improved little since. The Chancellor was isolated by No.10 and cabinet colleagues after describing the Google tax deal, under which the company paid £130m, as a "major success". Today, he is returning from the Super Bowl to a grim prognosis from the IFS. In its Green Budget, the economic oracle warns that Osborne's defining ambition of a budget surplus by 2019-20 may be unachievable without further spending cuts and tax rises. 

Though the OBR's most recent forecast gave him a £10.1bn cushion, reduced earnings growth and lower equity prices could eat up most of that. In addition, the government has pledged to make £8bn of currently unfunded tax cuts by raising the personal allowance and the 40p rate threshold. The problem for Osborne, as his tax credits defeat demonstrated, is that there are few easy cuts left to make. 

Having committed to achieving a surplus by the fixed date of 2019-20, the Chancellor's new fiscal mandate gives him less flexibility than in the past. Indeed, it has been enshrined in law. Osborne's hope is that the UK will achieve its first surplus since 2000-01 just at the moment that he is set to succeed (or has succeeded) David Cameron as prime minister: his political fortunes are aligned with those of the economy. 

There is just one get-out clause. Should GDP growth fall below 1 per cent, the target is suspended. An anaemic economy would hardly be welcome for the Chancellor but it would at least provide him with an alibi for continued borrowing. Osborne may be forced to once more recite his own version of Keynes's maxim: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.