Friday, 8 May 2009

8 May 2009

I’ve had another one of my strange dreams (or should that be nightmares?). I was on the bus, and I discovered a plain brown envelope lying on the seat beside me. Inside was a sheet of paper with a memo on it, unsigned and undated. This is what it said:

“Alan: You asked for my thoughts about all the Leadership speculation. Given what seems to happen to emails these days, I’m doing this the old-fashioned way, and will have it hand delivered to your home.

1. You are ideally positioned. Everyone thinks you’d be good to take over if (when?) Gordon decides to go. You need to say nothing and do nothing that looks as if you are campaigning.
2. Your appeal is who you are and where you come from, not what your policies are. In this respect, you have what I call the Obama factor. So your strategy must be to say little but to act natural. Emphasise that you can empathise. (Not like some, huh?) But we’ll need to come up with a position for you on the Post Office thing.
3. If (when?) Gordon goes, you will face competition from at least Harriet, Ed Balls, David Miliband, plus maybe Purnell and Burnham. Hattie is the only serious contender.
4. Your appeal to party members should be simply: Who’ll get the vote out at the general election? Hattie, closely identified with Gordon and not naturally voter-friendly, or you? No contest … This is nothing like the deputy leadership election: this one matters.
5. When the time comes, we should encourage media coverage highlighting your own life story. We could get someone to do a “compare and contrast” between you and Boris. “A Tale of Two Johnsons”, you get the idea. (Orphan, council flat, Tesco’s, postman vs Eton, Balliol, Classics. By the way, do you have some good childhood pictures?)
6. Your campaign should be based on the simple idea: “Alan Johnson’s Labour party: back where we belong.” You need to draw a clear line between you and Gordon. Something like the new London Evening Standard campaign? “Sorry for losing touch”.
7. Get Hazel on board, once she’s cleared up this expenses stuff. She may have to do a bit of grovelling. Authenticity is key: a bit rough around the edges is good. (Warning: former Telegraph editor Charles Moore has been touting Johnson/Blears as a dream ticket since last year. This is not helpful, so we should not draw attention to it.)
8. On the subject of the Telegraph, you will have to come clean about expenses. So far, they seem to have nothing on you, but if there is anything – anything – that anyone can make mischief with, let’s get it out in the open now. And I mean, now.
9. Timing: the party conference is the ideal time to go for a leadership election. Hustings at conference, at which you say that if elected, you will immediately ask for the dissolution of parliament and go for a snap election in late October. Campaign slogan: Alan Johnson’s Labour: back in touch with the real Britain.
10. Tell Straw, Mandelson and Darling to stay out of the way. No one who could ever be called smooth should be allowed anywhere near you …
11. You apologise for past mistakes (ie Gordon!), you say you know Labour needs to start again – and you go for the Tories’ jugular on cuts, cuts, cuts. “Who would you rather trust with our schools and hospitals? Johnson’s Labour, or Cameron’s Conservatives?” It will be essential to hammer home that Johnson’s Labour is not Brown’s Labour (or Blair’s Labour!). But we must not encourage comparisons with John Major.
12. Did you know that Mike Smithson of is offering 7/4 that Brown will be be first of the three party leaders to go; 10/1 that you will be his successor, and has a 20/1 bet that you’ll be PM on 31 December?

I say: Go for it. But one last question: Are you sure you want it?”

Then I woke up and there was no memo, and no brown envelope. Even so …

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