Can Johnson pull a rabbit out of the hat on the bill?

Can Johnson pull a rabbit out of the hat on the bill?

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    Will my 18/1 long-shot stop another damaging rebellion?

With the controversial Education Bill coming back to the Commons the next few days could be crucial for the leadership chances of Alan Johnson – currently in the second favourite slot and who I suggested was a good value bet at 18/1.

rabbit out of hat.gifThe bill’s passage gives the new Education Secretary a great platform to build up his public profile and to show his political skills dealing with the most divisive domestic Labour party issue for years.

For the bill only got this far in March thanks to the support of the Tories. They stepped in to more than fill the void after after a rebellion in the parliamentary Labour party that saw 52 voting against and a further 25 abstaining.

A real fear for Blair this week is the possibility of a Tory ambush. Cameron’s team could find a reason to back off their support and the Government could be defeated on a flag-ship piece of legislation in the Commons.

    If that happened then Blair’s days at Number 10, surely, would be even more numbered than they currently are.

With the number of Blair dissenters having grown following the half-baked Brown assault on Number 10 two weeks ago the focus for all those who want him out now is on the bill.

Enter then the politically-savvy former London postman who was elected boss of one of the country’s biggest unions when he was just 42. His options, however, seem limited. Watering down the bill even further would make it easier for Team Cameron to vote against. Leaving it in its current state could fuel a bigger rebellion than March.

But has Alan Johnson got something else up his sleeve?

    Could, for instance, he come up with a measure he could take that would, say, allow a partial withdrawal by the Prime Minister avoiding a potentially hazardous vote without conceding anything on the “reform agenda”?

I have no idea – but the opportunity is there for Johnson to make a mark and win support from all sides of the party.

This could have an impact on the Blair leaving date, Labour leadership and next Chancellor markets.

Having been rewarded handsomely for betting against David Davis in last year’s Tory leadership contest I remain unconvinced by the received opinion that says Gordon Brown is a similar or even greater certainty. At least in the Tory contest we knew when Howard was going and contenders could emerge. With the Labour race we have no idea about the timing and anything could happen. It could be a walk-over for the Chancellor or it could be a bitterly fought contest stoked up by the media. Who knows?

One thing’s for sure – if the Johnson price eases to 18/1 again I’ll be there with my cash.

Mike Smithson

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