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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Theresa May's "clean Brexit" is hard Brexit with better PR

The Prime Minister's objectives point to the hardest of exits from the European Union. 

Theresa May will outline her approach to Britain’s Brexit deal in a much-hyped speech later today, with a 12-point plan for Brexit.

The headlines: her vow that Britain will not be “half in, half out” and border control will come before our membership of the single market.

And the PM will unveil a new flavour of Brexit: not hard, not soft, but “clean” aka hard but with better PR.

“Britain's clean break from EU” is the i’s splash, “My 12-point plan for Brexit” is the Telegraph’s, “We Will Get Clean Break From EU” cheers the Express, “Theresa’s New Free Britain” roars the Mail, “May: We’ll Go It Alone With CLEAN Brexit” is the Metro’s take. The Guardian goes for the somewhat more subdued “May rules out UK staying in single market” as their splash while the Sun opts for “Great Brexpectations”.

You might, at this point, be grappling with a sense of déjà vu. May’s new approach to the Brexit talks is pretty much what you’d expect from what she’s said since getting the keys to Downing Street, as I wrote back in October. Neither of her stated red lines, on border control or freeing British law from the European Court of Justice, can be met without taking Britain out of the single market aka a hard Brexit in old money.

What is new is the language on the customs union, the only area where May has actually been sparing on detail. The speech will make it clear that after Brexit, Britain will want to strike its own trade deals, which means that either an unlikely exemption will be carved out, or, more likely, that the United Kingdom will be out of the European Union, the single market and the customs union.

(As an aside, another good steer about the customs union can be found in today’s row between Boris Johnson and the other foreign ministers of the EU27. He is under fire for vetoing an EU statement in support of a two-state solution, reputedly to curry favour with Donald Trump. It would be strange if Downing Street was shredding decades of British policy on the Middle East to appease the President-Elect if we weren’t going to leave the customs union in order at the end of it.)

But what really matters isn’t what May says today but what happens around Europe over the next few months. Donald Trump’s attacks on the EU and Nato yesterday will increase the incentive on the part of the EU27 to put securing the political project front-and-centre in the Brexit talks, making a good deal for Britain significantly less likely.

Add that to the unforced errors on the part of the British government, like Amber Rudd’s wheeze to compile lists of foreign workers, and the diplomatic situation is not what you would wish to secure the best Brexit deal, to put it mildly.

Clean Brexit? Nah. It’s going to get messy. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.