An audience with Mr. Johnson

Against my idle judgment, I go to hear Alan Johnson at a book-promotion event for his latest volume of memoirs. Johnson, by common consent, is the Labour minister who might have made a good party leader had he been interested (he wasn’t, it turns out), though using the adjective ‘good’ in a political context invites all sorts of difficulties. By even commoner consent, he’s the man who might, as party leader, have appealed to other than a staunch Labour constituency. I’m not so sure. Johnson was in conversation with the MP for nearby Torfaen, and invited questions from the audience.  As usual on such occasions and to the probable and justifiable embarrassment of my wife, I stick up my hand. Noticing that he’d referred to Tony Blair throughout as ‘Tony’, I asked if he’d done so with any irony, and since Blair – or Tony – now attracted wide opprobrium, what he thought of the man and his legacy. He believed Tony had done a lot of good and he didn’t intend to join the Hampstead chorus of anti-Blair disapproval. This reference to middle-class, metropolitan Labour supporters is always a giveaway for a former trade union grandee with impeccable working-class credentials. These were recalled when he resurrected something from one of his earlier volumes of autobiography concerning his father, who would return from the pub and beat up the young Johnson’s mother. The way he put it, the deprived working-class background from which he emerged  includes this kind of animal behaviour. Thus does the socialist mistake the general for the particular: wife-beaters come in all shapes, weights, and sizes, and are not bound by class. Maybe I should have asked him for a definition of ‘working-class’. Is a non-deprived working-class actually a middle-class? Or perhaps I should have asked if it were not true that Blair’s poodle-like association with the appalling George W. Bush had resulted in years of increasing mayhem in the Middle East, which had now spread to Europe and had led to Britain’s voting to leave the European Union,  insofar as that vote was based on fears of unchecked immigration. But I didn’t. To judge from the other questions and the queue of admirers waiting to get their copies of his book signed, Johnson was in supportive company. He’d defended his kind of memoir against the competing sort exemplified by Kenneth Clarke’s. Somehow, I think I’d read Clarke for entertaining political insight and Johnson’s to find out how a man from lowly beginnings rose to become an ubiquitous government minister. For some reason, I didn’t take to Johnson, but his championing of, for example, the trawlermen in his Hull constituency, was impressive. Still,  I prefer him to the other Johnson – Boris.

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