Can Labour ignore Johnson’s awful 2006 focus groups?

Can Labour ignore Johnson’s awful 2006 focus groups?

    How can they select someone who could make matters worse?

The only point for Labour to go through the pain of changing the leader again is to improve the party’s chances at the next election. In June 2007, as I keep on reminding people, Labour MPs ignored the overwhelming polling evidence, that has since been proved correct, that Gordon would be an electoral disaster.

So how are we to assess the reports that a union-backed joint Johnson-Cruddas ticket is being proposed. Would PM Johnson be able to turn things round?

What evidence there is does not help. For any hopes, surely, that Johnson might have harboured about becoming leader were totally crushed during Labour’s 2006 September conference when the results of two ego-bruising leadership focus groups were published.

During the months beforehand, it will be recalled, Johnson was being talked up as a possible leadership challenger to Brown – but that all came to an abrupt end when the results of an ICM online study and a Frank Luntz session for Newsnight became known. These were reinforced by a lacklustre conference speech. Johnson realised it then and my guess still does.

This is how Julian Glover in the Guardian summed up the ICM panel’s findings..“Johnson, who is considering running, came across as friendlier but less clear-cut. “He seems like a smiley, cheery fellow to me but not a heavyweight politician,” said one member. Mr Johnson’s lack of a strong identity might change if he became a prominent challenger to Mr Brown. But he suffers for the moment as someone seen as “a bit 1970s“, “someone in the background with not much to say.” One Labour voter thought he looked like “a market trader“. Asked what kind of character he might play in a TV drama, one panelist said “one of those bumbling old jokey types from Coronation Street“.

On Newsnight that evening the Frank Luntz focus group was screened and this was equally damning for the ex-postman.

Luntz wrote in the Times “..Alan Johnson has the perfect biography. Participants felt he had the right life-experience. And when he cracked a joke at David Cameron’s expense (“I was coming on these (TV) programmes without a tie when David Cameron was having a fag behind the bike shed at Eton”) he hit the right note. But for almost everyone, his presentation is, in a word, boring. They didn’t disagree with a word he said. His stated objective that “never again in this country will people have to chose between heating and eating” was certainly pleasing to the ear. But most participants felt his résumé spoke better than . . . well . . . his speaking.

Johnson went on to become a powerful advocate for Brown particularly during the period in Spring 2007 when all the speculation was over whether there would be a challenge. Then Johnson had a further humiliation when he was pipped at the post by Harriet Harman in the Deputy election.

Alan Johnson is a proud man and I do not believe he has it in him to risk rejection again. Live Labour Leadership prices.

Why is it that parties only get round to choosing election winning-leaders until they have been out of office for a long time and all seems hopeless? It took Labour a long time in the years up to 1994 and the Tories went through a lot of pain for nearly a decade before picking someone who looks like a winner.

Mike Smithson

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