On the Politics Show, Sunday 7 June 2009, Jon Sopel interviewed Alan Johnson MP.
Q: Joining me now the new Home Secretary, Alan Johnson. Home Secretary, welcome, thanks for being with us.
Alan Johnson MP
JOHNSON: Thank you.
Q: Do you think the rebellion's over?
JOHNSON: I hope it's over. I believe that the message from the electorate, and we lost some seats there and some great candidates in Northamptonshire and Derbyshire and Staffordshire and Devon, and we have to listen to both our activists in the field and of course the PLP but also to the public. What message are they giving us here? And I don't think it's the message that you ought to carry on being divided. I think it's you need to unite and you need to ensure that you concentrate on the major issues facing the country.
Q: Yeah we spoke to Lord Falconer earlier on in the programme. He said I think it's time for a leadership challenge. I can give you the exact quote. If you like, you know I think we need to debate it urgently, I think probably it will need a change in leader.
JOHNSON: I don't agree, I don't agree that regicide gives you a united party, quite the opposite. I think what we need to do is to focus on the major issues. One of the major issues now of course is the issue of allowances. That's what would have affected the vote. You know we had a terrible night and there's no getting round that. Our drop, our vote dropped by 1% on last year. The Tories' vote dropped by 6% on last year, and there's evidence that all the major parties have suffered there and probably will suffer in the European elections, so allowances is a big issue that the public want us to get to grips with.
Q: I just want, what is your message to Labour MPs because we've spoken to a large number over the weekend who are all saying, you know what? We think Alan Johnson is the answer, we think you know Alan Johnson could give us a lead here.
JOHNSON: It's the same message as I've said continuously. I think Gordon Brown is the best man for the job. You're never going to get a politician that is absolutely perfect in every respect. Tony Blair wasn't. None of that, none of his predecessors have been. What you've got in Gordon Brown is a man of immense substance, a man who has led the world in dealing with the economic problems that are still the biggest threat that we face in terms of people's livelihoods and their income and their jobs. And I believe that he can do that job very very well, and can lead us into, into election and can win that election, and that's the big debate. Can he win the next election? What, what I - what I find extraordinary at the moment is I've been around long enough to remember the Labour party actually breathing a sigh of relief as it went out of government in the late 70s. We believe absolutely that we have a good record and a vision for the future and we are determined to stay in power.
Q: A simple question for you, Mr Johnson, a simple question for you. What is your evidence that Gordon Brown is an election winner?
JOHNSON: Well my evidence is he's been part of our success for the last twelve years. You can't discount that.
Q: But since he's taken over, the results have been catastrophic, hasn't faced an election, didn't face a leadership contest.
JOHNSON: Hang on, we won three elections on the trot. It's not just the leader, it's the team around it and Blair, Brown were a central part of that. Secondly, I believe Gordon Brown is focusing on the issues that really matter, particularly the economy. As, there was a guy in the papers on Friday, an American, saying from across the Atlantic this looks weird. You know we had Hank Paulson, their treasury secretary, leading us down a route that Gordon Brown suddenly came in and rode to our rescue, and he's been leading on those issues so I think that's very important. On issues like crime and on health and on education, we, when we get a chance to put our policies, not just the personalities and the message from your Woolworths' people I thought was a very good vox pop. You know they want to hear about the issues, not just this constant babble about personalities.
Q: OK but Peter Mandelson wrote that e-mail eighteen months ago, we've now discovered in the papers this morning, and you said that nobody's perfect. I mean it is right isn't it that Gordon Brown does come across in Peter Mandelson's words as insecure, angry and self-conscious?
JOHNSON: Well I think Peter Mandelson dealt with that very effectively with your colleague, Andrew Marr, earlier on. My view about Gordon is he's got two quiet old-fashioned aspects to Gordon. One is a sense of duty which seems rather old-fashioned in today's world. Second, he's a very private man who's quite uncomfortable in a kind of celebrity culture. That, those two aspects of Gordon are things that as Peter Mandel... was saying, Mandelson was saying, don't try and paint on a new personality. I think people appreciate that. Your Woolworths' workers certainly appreciated that, and I believe that you know it's about a team effort as to whether you win a general election, not just one man, and I think many people find that those characteristics I've mentioned are a welcome change from the kind of PR machine which sums up Cameron's Tories.
Q: And you've made clear consistently that you think that Gordon Brown is the best man to lead the job, that you're not seeking the premiership and all the rest of it, although you, you did add the quote never say never, but I just want to take you back to Thursday night. I mean where were you when you heard what was unfolding?
JOHNSON: Watching the Ten O'Clock News on BBC.
Q: And what did you think?
JOHNSON: I was shocked, yeah, I was shocked and surprised as we all were. I have enormous respect for James. He's a friend of mine.
Q: But did you, did you think -
JOHNSON: But to do it, to do it in that way and not to have informed the Prime Minister and not to have at least had an exchange and - I think was discourteous and I think James was wrong to do it. I think the reasons behind it were wrong and I think it was wrong in the way it was done as well.
Q: Yeah, and what happened after that? Did the phones light up? I mean did the Prime Minister get on the phone or Peter Mandelson get on the phone?
JOHNSON: I spoke to the Prime Minister later on about this and he was shocked as well, of course. A Cabinet minister doing it like that -
Q: Was he worried that you might go as well?
JOHNSON: Timing with the Ten O'Clock News.
Q: Was he worried that you might go as well?
JOHNSON: No. Of course he wasn't worried that I might go but you know he was, he rang round the Cabinet to let them know that he hadn't any prior knowledge of that. Otherwise we'd be sitting there thinking why didn't the Prime Minister tell us about this? Well the reason was he didn't know about this.
Q: Yeah but was there a moment where you thought, not that I'm going to challenge but inadvertently, by accident almost, this might actually fall into my lap?
JOHNSON: No. No no because it's -
Q: Not for, not for a second?
JOHNSON: No, not for a second, not for a second. It's a really important point here. We know, we know there's been disharmony in some places. We have to work at that. There was disharmony when Tony was there, there's always disharmony. I mean if you look at Major and Thatcher and every prime minister back as far as I can remember, Wilson, McMillan, Eden, there's always a level of discontent there, and you have to deal with that and present a united front to the public and you have to get onto the real issues that concern them which is not the kind of personality fest that we're having at the moment.
Q: OK. Let's, let's talk about the kind of, the home affairs brief that is now - and I know you've got an awful lot of reading to do, reading into it. ID cards, yes or no?
JOHNSON: Yes, it's part of our 2005 manifesto and the Act actually went through in 2006.
Q: There were various, there were various articles that I've read over the weekend which suggest that maybe you're not that keen on ID cards.
JOHNSON: There's some funny articles around. You know I don't know where they get this stuff from, including I was offered the Home Office two years ago and refused it. I mean it's rubbish. It, it was a manifesto commitment and now it's an Act, and it's being implemented and we're implementing it at the end of this year. We're just coming up to the stage where we implement it for foreign nationals and people who work on the airport side, so, so that's in being and I think one of the aspects about my brief, the bit that I've read so far in my kind of two days as Home Secretary, is the remarkable improvements that we've seen over the last couple of years under Jackie Smith and the progress that's been made on a single
agency, on neighbourhood policing, on a fairer system, the Australian type system of immigration, stronger immigration system so you know I leave a department where we've got MRSA right down, clostridium difficile down, where we've got eighteen week waiting times maximum, all concrete improvements in the two years under Gordon Brown.
Q: So you know we've had a number of authoritarian Home Secretaries, I think it's quite fair to say. Would you describe yourself as authoritarian or liberal?
JOHNSON: I'd describe myself as on the side of the police and the security services, and on the side of the public, and we need to absolutely ensure that we give the fullest support to the police, to the police including removing some of the bureaucracy that we're doing at the moment with the help of Jan Berry so they can get on with doing their job, and it's my job to make sure that they can do their job effectively and on immigration, if people are over here and they want to be British citizens, they have to speak English, they have to obey the law, they have to pay their taxes. They're the things that the British public expect and we should ensure that the people coming over here have the skills that we need which is why the new system I believe is going to work very well.
Q: I just want to come back to you, Alan Johnson, because you're a modest man and I'm not going to use the Churchill insult, with a lot to be modest about, but you know -
JOHNSON: You'd be entitled to.
Q: No no but there are people keep feting you and people keep saying that you are possibly the next leader of the Labour party. Now that you've reached, you're Home Secretary now, do you think at one stage it may be your destiny to lead the Labour party, and I know you're not saying anything about Gordon?
JOHNSON: Look, I don't look at destinies. I've not been driven by personal ambition. Anyone who knows me, knows that, that's not the case. It's not you know false modesty or anything like that. It's just not what drives me on. I'm really proud and pleased and privileged to be Home Secretary. So no it's not, you know I've not sat with, on the back of a fag packet in a Heseltine way mapping out my career path.
Q: And do you think Gordon Brown will survive and will take you into the next election next May or whenever it will be?
JOHNSON: Yes, yes I think he will.
Q: So in that sense you are confident, the rebellion is over?
JOHNSON: Well you've asked me if I'm confident whether Gordon Brown will lead us into the next election successfully, and yes I am.
Q: But with a bit more turbulence still to come probably?
JOHNSON: Well there's never a period when you're in government unfortunately when there's no turbulence.
Q: Alan Johnson, Home Secretary, thank you very much for being with us here on the Politics Show, thanks very much.
END OF INTERVIEW
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The Politics Show Sunday 14 June 2009 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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