Could his approach curtail Labour’s losses?
Over the long holiday weekend there’s been a lot of comment about the health secretary Alan Johnson and whether under his leadership the coming general election would not be as bad for Labour as some are suggesting.
What the Johnson backers are not explaining is the “how” – the reason why, of all the current crop of leading ministers he is the only one with a well thought out and effective means of dealing with the phenomenon that’s dominated British politics since December 6th 2005 – David Cameron.
For it’s the new Tory leader who has put Labour in the position it is today and it is the abject failure of the Labour leadership to find a way of dealing with him that’s the root of all their problems.
Let’s step back three months and recall the extraordinarily perceptive comments that the Sunday Times reported Alan Johnson as saying in in February:
“Cameronâ€™s been very skilful at the way he has projected his own image onto his party. Now there is a feeling that, yes, you are a nice guy, but what is next?..
Cameronâ€™s genuine, but he is leading the Conservative party. It is not a presidential system â€“ much as we might have disguised it under Tony. This is a party system.â€”
The killer punch is in that last bit – the suggestion that Cameron is a prisoner of an unreconstructed rightwing party that would destroy public services. This is smart and an approach that I first advocated here nearly three years ago. Don’t dispute Cameron’s sincerity but raise the spectre of what in the party is behind him.
The strong feature about the Johnson plan is that is goes with the grain of public opinion – not against it. The fact is that the polls tell us that Cameron is popular and liked and anything Tory opponents say has to recognise that – otherwise it will just fall on death ears.
Labour, and it should be said as well, Lib Dem people find this approach hard to swallow. The idea that they should concede that Cameron is regarded as a nice guy and liked is something that’s hard to swallow. Yet is is a strategy that I believe would work and help curtail the number of Tory seat wins.
But is it going to happen? Brown will never in a million years adopt such an approach because he just hates and despises Cameron so much. More fool him. But if Johnson was leader then who knows? Which brings us to the ultimate question – can Brown be prised out of the job he craved for so long?
Everybody points to the pathetic attempt at a rebellion last autumn – but things have changed dramatically since then. Smeargate and the ousting of Damian McBride have made the party and the media less receptive to Number 10’s “persuaders”. The style and approach of Brown’s Labour is now a matter of public discussion in a way that has not existed before.
It might just be easier for the faint-hearted to be brave. But will somebody be ready to act? Maybe – maybe not.
Among my three figure bets are 7/4 that Brown will be be first of the three party leaders to go and 10/1 that Johnson will be his successor. I’ve also a 20/1 bet that Johnson will be PM on December 31st 2009.