Could Johnson be the kingmaker, not the king?
In the wake of last week’s terror raids, most Labour leadership speculation has inevitably centred on whether the episode has boosted the chances of Home Secretary John Reid â€“ not least on this blog.
In my regional newspaper columns this weekend, I myself wrote that momentum is building behind a Reid candidature, although I think it will take sharp drop in Labourâ€™s poll ratings to persuade Labour members to opt for him over what, for them, is the more reassuring figure of Gordon Brown.
What, though, of the prospects of Education Secretary Alan Johnson, who for many political pundits and punters alike has long been the dark horse of the race?
In his favour is the fact that he is a relatively fresh face amongst what is fast becoming a rather tired-looking Labour line-up, with useful allies in the unions and on both wings of the party. Against that, though, he appears something of a lightweight compared to big beasts like Brown and Reid.
So will Johnson stand himself, or will he, as he maintains, content himself with the deputy leadership and perhaps seek to do a deal with one or other of the leadership frontrunners?
In a Reid v Brown contest â€“ I am discounting John McDonnell because I simply donâ€™t believe he will get the required nominations from MPs â€“ the endorsement of Johnson would doubtless be a much sought-after prize.
If Brown landed him, he would have what would look like an unbeatable combination â€“ a running mate who, as a union man with modernizing credentials, could authentically claim to be both New Labour and Real Labour.
If on the other hand Reid were to get Johnson’s backing, and all the other Blairites then fell into line behind the Home Secretary, he would begin to look like the man to unite the party, and the Chancellor could start to look rather isolated by comparison.
But there is, of course, a way that Johnson could neatly spare himself this dilemma, and that is to stand for both posts.
He would then be able to pursue his publicly declared goal of the deputy leadership, free from constant speculation about which of the big two he was backing for the leaderâ€™s job or whose running mate he was.
On this blog last Wednesday, Mike posed the question whether Brown himself should go for both. My view is that he canâ€™t, because as favourite, he canâ€™t risk sending out the message that he is less than confident of victory.
Johnson, though, has nothing to lose on this score. And if I was a betting man, thatâ€™s where I would have my money.
Paul Linford was a member of the Parliamentary Lobby from 1995 to 2004. He now combines a job in internet management with writing politics columns for four regional newspapers and running his political blog. He also produces a weekly podcast focusing on current political events. He lives in Derbyshire with his wife and young son.