Matthew Norman on Monday: Alan Johnson’s conditional love of Labour

However charming the candour, what is he playing at with such obvious subliminal messaging?


With the ghosts of Labour past forming a spectral confederacy to advise the embattled Ed Miliband (Keir Hardie will give a statement on Wednesday), we turn first today to Alan Johnson.

Interviewed in The Sunday Telegraph, Johnners wryly swats the backbench wasps buzzing around Ed’s head (“Those great figures of the Labour movement,” he observes, “George Mudie, Geraint Davies and Graham Stringer…”). Despite making an ass of himself as Home Secretary by firing his drugs adviser, Professor David Nutt, for advising him on drugs, the Hull MP remains popular. So it’s depressing to find him insisting he will not come to the aid of the party in opposition.

“It’s no good if your heart isn’t in it,” he says, comparing himself to international-football refusenik Rio Ferdinand. But he would consider a cabinet post should Labour win in 2015. “I am outrageously trying to have it both ways,” he admits.

However charming the candour, what is he playing at with such obvious subliminal messaging? Evidently, he doubts that Labour will win, and will not lift a finger in a losing cause, but will be pleased to return if proved wrong. This brand of studied dilettantism may have suited that crashing mediocrity David Miliband, but it is far beneath Johnners. The poorest of shows.

No ‘I’ in Prescott

On the day of Hull City’s Premier League return, another of the city’s political deities also sought a football analogy. In the Sunday Mirror, John Prescott told Ed Miliband to unleash his inner Alex Ferguson by screaming dementedly at colleagues, and appointing a “good captain” to ensure “the team works together on the pitch… ”; someone, he modestly went on, such as himself when he was Mr Tony Blair’s summer stand-in.

Previous captain Tom Watson “was more obsessed with the media than campaigning for Labour”, Lord P pointed out, soon after recalling how “we always planned well ahead with our news grid, and during summer I met every day with my team looking at the stories and messages we were going to deliver”. What a mind we see at work here.

Don’t go there

Whether Douglas Alexander is among those Prescott deems worthy of the hairdryer treatment seems unlikely after the shadow Foreign Secretary bolstered the Labour midfield by writing on Egypt in the New Statesman. The final portion of his three-point masterplan of how the Government should handle the crisis is especially inspired. The Government must “keep travel advice for Egypt under constant review given the dangerous and deadly scenes in Cairo”. Utter genius. Never in a million light years would the Foreign Office have thought of that.

New name in town

I am distressed to note a Sunday title refusing to accord the hiring of a movie reviewer the prominence so epochal an appointment deserves. “Today, The Observer can announce the identity of a new film critic,” it sonorously declares, “who will be steering our readers towards the screen from next month.” The white smoke billows for Mark Kermode, left, who is best known for his lively Radio 5 Live double act with friend and prayer-group colleague the Rev Simon Mayo; and second-best known for changing his surname, for reasons never properly explained, from Fairey.

What a to-do

Empathy for the cocaine smugglers nicked in Lima comes from an unlikely source. The former Mail on Sunday deputy editor Roderick Gilchrist feels for the women, “for I too have experienced the nightmare of being held by Peruvian drug detectives”. Roddy was checking in to fly home when “two swarthies with faces you could trace to their Inca ancestors demanded my passport and grabbed an arm each”. One went as far as pulling down his boxers before they satisfied themselves that he was clean and released him.

A mortifying ordeal indeed, and possibly the basis for a motion picture to be reviewed by Mark Kermode in good time. Roddy’s one recorded previous foray into foreign affairs came in 1992, when on seeing a “to do” list on a Post-it note stuck to a features executive’s screen, he screeched “Todo! We must send someone to do a travel piece on the Indian Ocean island of Todo!”

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