Could Alan Johnson lead Labour into the 2020 General Election?

Could Alan Johnson lead Labour into the 2020 General Election?


At 25/1, Alan Johnson is a value bet for next Labour leader says Keiran Pedley.

It’s fair to say it’s been a difficult start to life as Labour leader for Jeremy Corbyn.

His failure to appoint any women to the so-called ‘top jobs’ whilst controversially choosing John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor got his leadership off to a rough start. Since then, he has been attacked for not singing the national anthem, endured a mixed reception at his first PLP meeting as leader and has generally been derided for a perceived lack of competence in terms of how he deals with the media.

Corbyn’s initial difficulties have led many commentators to declare that he is ‘even worse than imagined’. However, his opponents might want to be careful. There is more than a hint of hysteria in how some of his detractors have seized on largely trivial events. The lack of women in Labour’s top jobs is very disappointing but I can’t help but feel the national anthem issue has been overblown. In going over the top in their attacks on Corbyn, his opponents will only serve to solidify his position – especially among Labour members that voted for him.

And here’s the thing, Jeremy Corbyn is not going to lead Labour into the 2020 General Election anyway. Whether you support or oppose him, whether you think he will be removed or stand aside, if you stop and really think about it we all know this is true. He will be 70 going into the next General Election. It is not even clear he wants to be Prime Minister (as daft as that sounds). His initial poll numbers are dire. The nature of his departure is up for debate but it won’t be Jeremy Corbyn leading Labour into 2020.

My gut feel is that Labour in 2015 is not massively dissimilar to the Conservatives in 2001. Then, the Conservative Party chose Iain Duncan Smith as leader only for him to be removed and replaced by ‘unity candidate’ Michael Howard. History often has a habit of repeating itself and I wonder if it will do so here but this time for Labour. Another battle between Left and Right is possible of course but perhaps the best way for the PLP to get a leader they are more comfortable with, without alienating Labour members that voted Corbyn, would be for them to work with the Trade Unions to choose a leader that is palatable across all sections of the party.

Step forward Alan Johnson.

It is hard to think of someone that could perform the ‘Michael Howard role’ for Labour better than Alan Johnson. I have written on this blog about the prospect of a David Miliband comeback but that feels unlikely now given the current makeup of the Labour (s)electorate and the likely reaction to that prospect of the Trade Unions. At the very least, David Miliband would have to show he has changed in some way from the man that lost in 2010.

On the other hand, Alan Johnson would make an excellent ‘unity candidate’. He is experienced, likeable and could command support both from the PLP and the Trade Unions. He is relatively well known to the public and has a back-story that political dreams are made of. He has shown reluctance to seek the leadership in the past but it is possible that being asked to stand as a unifying figure for Labour might convince him. Before now, you would be forgiven for thinking his time had passed but at 65 he is actually younger than Jeremy Corbyn. Granted, only by a year, but still younger.

Alan Johnson leading Labour into the 2020 General Election may not be the most likely outcome but it makes sense in lots of ways. He is currently 25/1 with Ladbrokes to be the next Labour leader. That feels very good value. I have put £20 on and recommend you do to. As always with betting, the value is not in the most likely outcome but where the balance of probabilities is in your favour. I definitely think they are in this case. Let’s wait and see.

Keiran Pedley 

Keiran Pedley is a regular contributor to and tweets about polling and politics at @Keiranpedley

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