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20 May 2012updated 05 Oct 2023 8:51am

Alan Johnson for mayor in 2016?

Four reasons why he is Labour's best choice.

By Rayhan Haque

Alan Johnson MP has revealed that he is considering a bid for London Mayor in 2016. Here are four reasons why he is Labour’s best choice.

1. Stopping a third term for Boris Johnson

Politicos are fascinated by the intriguing power struggles at the top of the Conservative Party between David Cameron and Boris Johnson. It is no secret that Boris covets the keys to Number 10. However, politics is an unprecedictable business and we cannot take Johnson’s ascension to the top job for granted. Labour therefore must assume he will stand and attempt to secure a third term in City Hall in 2016. That poses a significant challenge for Labour, as the “Boris” brand is a highly successful one that resonates strongly with the public. This has allowed him to get away with delivering little in his first term (Boris bikes seem to be the height of his achievement), yet remain a powerful electoral foe. And in the 24/7 media age, personality not only counts, it can also be decisive. Case in point: Boris v Ken 2012, where many believe Ken was simply out-gunned in the personality stakes. 

If Labour is to regain City Hall in 2016, it will need a popular figure to lead the charge. Alan Johnson is one of Labour’s big hitters and most liked politicians. Admired across the political spectrum for his personable nature, he holds a rare gift in politics of being able to “cut-through” and connect with the public – a quality not to be under-appreciated, as half the battle in politics is simply getting a hearing. He is also one for the occasion (remember his memorable rebuttal of George Osborne’s 2010 Autumn Statement), and will be an adept performer in the big London political arena. 

2. Major league political experience

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Although it’s still early days, names are being touted as to who might run in 2016. Younger Labour MPs such as David Lammy, Sadiq Khan or the talented Stella Creasy would make excellent candidates. However, none of them will, by 2016, have held high office or had experience in running major government departments. In contrast, Alan Johnson has successfully handled ministerial briefs at the Home Office, Trade and Industry and Work and Pensions – the London Mayor has significant responsibilities in all these areas and Johnson’s past experience in navigating these challenging policy areas will be vital in delivering the best for the people of London. 

3. A Londoner born and bred

Sunny Hundal rather bizarrely argued in a recent blog post that Alan Johnson is an unlikely prospect for the London Mayoralty as he is a North-East MP, which would preclude him from speaking on London issues. Putting aside the fact that pretty much every MP in the land speaks and campaigns on issues external to their constitutency, Johnson is a thorough-bred Londoner. Born and raised on the mean streets of Notting Hill in the 1960s, London is in his DNA. In contrast to other ex-ministers who have published memoirs on their time in office after departure, Johnson has spent the last two years painstakingly recounting his early life growing up in poverty in west London for a soon to be released semi-autobiography. Many within the Labour fold wanted him in the top team in those two years (he was Ed and David’s number one pick for Shadow Chancellor). But his commitment to this current project is total, and a clear illustration of the passion and affection he has for the city.

4. Working-class roots

The lack of working-class representation in frontline politics is deeply worrying and cannot be ignored. Remember that moment on Sky News when Johnson failed to correctly identify the NI rate? Not his greatest moment, certainly, but an honest human mistake. The reaction to his error was telling, and suggested considerable residual snobbery. It was overly negative and personal, with talk of Johnson being out of his depth as Shadow Chancellor. 

Yet, when a similar incident befell Nick Clegg in 2008 (he thought the basic state pension was £30, when in fact at the time it was £90.70), there was no noticeable reaction, and no questions about his suitability for the leadership of his party. I suppose the fact that he was educated at Cambridge with two Masters degrees to his name was confirmation enough for the media they were dealing with a smart individual who had simply got his facts wrong. Which is to say that politics today draws upon a too narrow social pool. An Alan Johnson candidacy in 2016 will be a powerful symbol background need not matter in reaching the top.

Rayhan Haque writes regularly for Left Foot Forward.

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