Leader: The postman’s delivery

Alan Johnson's self-deprecating wit belies a sharp mind.

In the days when he was touted as a successor to Gordon Brown, Alan Johnson was regarded as the Labour politician the Tories feared most. Ed Miliband's decision to name Mr Johnson as his shadow chancellor offers him a chance to prove why. Mr Johnson, as he himself concedes, is no economist, but his self-deprecating wit belies a sharp mind and a keen intelligence, and he has an undoubted ability to master a brief. At a time of falling social mobility, the ascent of the former postman, who was orphaned at the age of 12 and left school at 15, is an inspiring success story.

Perhaps most significantly, by appointing Mr Johnson, Mr Miliband has signalled that, unlike Tony Blair, he is unwilling to subcontract economic policy to his shadow chancellor. That is right. Mr Miliband, who taught economics at Harvard during his sabbatical in 2004 and chaired the Treasury's Council of Economic Advisers, will lead Labour's response to the spending review. In attempting to restore the party's economic credibility after the hubris of Mr Brown, he has a worthy ally in Mr Johnson.

This article first appeared in the 18 October 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Who owns Britain?