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Alan Johnson: could do better?

The most repellent aspect of watching the Chancellor yesterday was the schoolboy cheering as he finished. A new era of austerity ushered in by the Bullingdon bovver boys. Alan Johnson did respond:

Members opposite are cheering the deepest cuts in public expenditure that have taken place in living memory. For many of them, this is what they came into politics for.”

He did so to make the vital case that the cuts proposed are not necessary but ideological. Unfortunately, he failed to make that case effectively, and he failed too to convey the extent of human misery that these cuts will cause. It wasn’t so much that the content of what Mr Johnson said was wrong (though it was overly defensive), but he played the Tories at their own game, and a game it is. He was confident, articulate, witty, raised smiles, laughs and cheers from our side. He also left us feeling how much more effective Ed Balls would have been both at the forensic examination and rebuttal of the coalition’s case and at reaching the hearts of public doubters. He may well have got across to the public that the “deficit deceivers are using debt as cover to slash and burn their way across Britain” (as The Mirror put it) — Johnson has not thus far. Let us hope that Ed Miliband’s desire to pacify the Blairites does not prejudice Labour’s fightback.

This is how the press saw it this morning:

The polite

He shone in his first setpiece appearance as shadow chancellor, having only been appointed less than a fortnight ago. The former postman was assured and confident.”(Jim Pickard, Financial Times)

Alan Johnson, was no less sure-footed. He noted that the financial crisis was hardly restricted to the UK, that there is no consensus on the need to cut so fast and, not least, that assertions about the fairness of the package are very debatable. Mr Johnson, a former postman, is an ideal person to make this case in the years ahead. Ed Miliband, the new Labour leader, has chosen shrewdly.” (Martin Wolf,  Financial Times)

The bad

Yesterday’s exchanges confirm that Ed Balls would have been a more formidable opponent to Osborne, not only in the forensic assault that would have accompanied his appointment but also in his capacity to develop a distinctive alternative argument about the origins and significance of the deficit. On the whole Labour MPs were delighted with Johnson’s witty response, but the new shadow Chancellor relied on evasive generalities and could not disguise entirely a lack of confidence in his new and daunting brief”. (Steve Richards, Independent)

The bad but predictable

Mr Johnson responded to the Chancellor’s statement like a fumbling pier-end turn, fulfilling his role as shop steward for Labour’s payroll vote, the employees and beneficiaries of public largesse.” (Max Hastings,Daily Mail)

“Could do better”

Two weeks into his new role, the shadow chancellor put in a performance that went some way (Editor’s emphasis) towards reassuring Labour backbenchers that he will be an effective opponent to George Osborne.”  (Allegra Stratton, Guardian)

The reply, by the shadow chancellor Alan Johnson … was eloquent without being convincing.” (Matthew Engel,  Financial Times)

One Comment

  1. Bev Clack says:

    I’m starting to feel nervous about the lack of teeth in Labour’s response to the ConDem cuts. Perhaps we can play a ‘wait-and-see’ game (will any of this matter once the cuts start biting and hurting), but I think we really need someone with the tenacity, fight and intelligence of Balls to be all over this dreadful government’s economic policies. Alan Johnson is a decent man but is that really enough for someone in this role at this time?

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