Friday, 8 October 2010

Do Alan Johnson's economic views matter?

Much speculation today about the signal sent by Alan Johnson's appointment as shadow chancellor. Does this mean Miliband has decided to stick with Alastair Darling's policy of halving the deficit in four years? Is it a snub to Ed Balls, designed to avoid a new Blair-Brown style conflict between Labour's leader and (shadow) chancellor?

A search for '"Alan Johnson" economics' mainly shows today's news - neither Google nor Bing seems to allow me to exclude articles from the last 24 hours. Fortunately Bing simply isn't up to date yet, so I can find a few old articles - this speech from last October is typical, being a recital of Labour's standard policy message. The nearest thing to an economic policy statement is his speech saying there's no reason to worry about UK population growth to 70 million; and this item suggesting that the government should nationalise a dock in his constituency to stop it falling into disrepair.

But actually, Alan Johnson's economic views are irrelevant. For two reasons:

  1. Labour does not want to debate the Tories over economic theory. It won't change anything, and it will just take the debate onto a theoretical level in which the public is not interested. Labour's job is to wait for the Tories to make a mistake, or try to blame them for events that happen regardless.
  2. Alan Johnson will probably never be Chancellor, so there's no point creating a hostage to fortune. Whoever is shadowing Osborne by the next election will want the chance to lay out their own economic philosophy and that - if anything - will be the one that matters if Labour is elected in 2015.
Alan Johnson's real job, in fact, is simply to make George Osborne look young, inexperienced and flustered. Johnson's relaxed attitude, wit and apparent lack of giving-a-shit will do that very well.

No comments: