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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 May 2007, 09:56 GMT 10:56 UK
Focus on Labour's record
On Sunday 06 May Andrew Marr interviewed Alan Johnson MP, Secretary of State for Education

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Alan Johnson MP
Alan Johnson MP, Secretary of State for Education

ANDREW MARR: Welcome Alan Johnson. You're not wearing your kilt, not wearing your tartan socks.

ALAN JOHNSON: I took it off before I came on.

ANDREW MARR: Is it a done deal now that Gordon Brown takes over?

ALAN JOHNSON: I think so. And I think we will also see that orderly transition that we were talking about a year ago, that kind of went a bit askew through the year.

But we're now back and I very much welcome Charles Clarke's comments.

I think actually that Gordon is so superior in the sense of his intellect, his experience, his drive, his energy that everyone including me thinks he's the best candidate.

ANDREW MARR: But wasn't Michael Meacher right in this sense at least that if there is no change Labour is heading for defeat? That there has to be something pretty radical and clear and sharp that alters now?

ALAN JOHNSON: Well he was right about that.

He was right about the need to listen to the electorate. He was wrong in his suggestion that we should leave that centre ground. I mean we've shifted the centre ground to the left. Things like international development, work-life balance, the minimum wage are all accepted as middle ground now. And for us to desert that middle ground and shift off to the left is exactly what David Cameron wants to do.

So in that, he's also wrong to talk about pensioner poverty incidentally which has decreased under this government. Yes, we need to move into a new phase. This is a bit like in-flight re-fuelling, you know. We're the party of government. It's quite easy when you're thrown out of government and you land and all the passengers get off - which for the purpose of this tortuous analogy are the electorate - then they're not noticing what you're doing in terms of the policy.

You know in opposition the public are not watching your every move. When you're in government and you're looking to renew in government it is a more delicate operation. And we have to be aware throughout this campaign, throughout this leadership, deputy leadership campaign, the public are watching us and they want to see that we are concerned about their priorities not our own internal machinations.

ANDREW MARR: So when you say that there needs to be a change in direction and that there needs to be a real shift of some kind, give me a sense of what that might mean.

ALAN JOHNSON: Well I think, and I think incidentally ten years in and third term ..

ANDREW MARR: Yeah, sure. I accept that. Accept that ...

ALAN JOHNSON: .. we'd be looking to this whether or not there was a change of leader. But there will be a change of leader. That does enable us to get perhaps a different side in, in the style.

But in terms of the policy what I want to see is us to recognise that whilst we've done an awful lot in tackling poverty, social mobility, which is a slightly different thing. Income distribution is a part of it but it's not the whole thing.

ANDREW MARR: It's worse than it was in the fifties in terms of ..


ANDREW MARR: .. working class people wanting to ..

ALAN JOHNSON: That's right.

ANDREW MARR: .. to get to the top.

ALAN JOHNSON: That's right. But you judge this on the basis of the, whether you are likely to end up in the same income group that you came from. And in this country it's more difficult to escape the shackles of a deprived upbringing than it is in practically any other country in the world. Now they, these things are judged over a long time scale.

ANDREW MARR: Yeah but it's, it's, it's not a great verdict on ten years of New Labour that that's the case. It's not a great verdict - you're Education Secretary - that private education is more popular now than it's ever been.

ALAN JOHNSON: Well let's just get this straight. These, this is done over a long, long time scale. So a child born in nineteen seventy, the analysis shows, would have gone through the eighties - and I don't want to rehearse the problems of the eighties - but been educated in crumbling classrooms, left to find mass unemployment.

That's a factor as to why social mobility has not been as good for that generation as for those born in the fifties. We are still constructing the path of social mobility for youngsters born in the late nineties. I think we could do much more to make that an absolute target.

On education we've made huge advances. Not least of all university education where we've seen an increase of thirteen per cent in youngsters from the most deprived backgrounds going on to higher education and that's crucial. As is building three thousand five hundred Sure Start Centres because this starts very young.

ANDREW MARR: Sure. I, if I'm a voter sitting at home and I've, I've been fed up with Labour over the last few years. I either voted for one of your opponents or not voted last week, I'm sitting here listening to you and I'm saying I'm not sure this man's really got the message. I'm not sure this man understands how cross and disappointed I am.

ALAN JOHNSON: Well we do understand. It wasn't a good night for us on Thursday. But one part of this is our record. A strong economy. The introduction of the national minimum wage. Improved investment in health and education. Improved results in education right across the board, from early years right to higher education and indeed further education.

The other bit will be, and the most important bit will be, what is our vision for the future? And that must be preserving that strong economy, preserving the increase in prosperity right across the board. Preserving that coalition between the aspirant and the disadvantaged that led us into government in ninety seven .

ANDREW MARR: But preserving is not going to be enough.

ALAN JOHNSON: And has left us, and has left us in government. No you - absolutely. Well but it, but it's essential to do that. Let's make, let's be absolutely clear. In the run up to the next election it'll be a focus on policy. It'll be about tackling the issues now. Not the same issues as ten years ago.

So the issue of climate change is a huge issue. Energy security, international security. All of these issues are important to people as well as their continuing prosperity in a country which has in terms of economic stability and rising prosperity been a role model for many countries in Europe and the world.

ANDREW MARR: And yet again going back to this voter watching at home, they'll be saying yeah but I've heard all of this. This is how these people have been talking for a long time now. And I want something new. I want something fresh. I want the government at least to recognise the sense of disappointment. What are you going to give those people that makes them prick up their ears and take notice again?

ALAN JOHNSON: Well there'll be a whole range of policy initiatives ..

ANDREW MARR: Give me an example.

ALAN JOHNSON: .. I'm sure. Well I think this issue about housing is now becoming a central issue. It's equated with and fundamental to this issue about the social gap.

ANDREW MARR: So you'll build more houses than the other one?

ALAN JOHNSON: Well we need to tackle this issue about housing and you know we've done an awful lot. But that's an area where we need to pay much more attention. The issue around the social class gap is something that's extremely important. The extra investment that's going into our health service et cetera, we've had a difficult year in the health service. People need to be convinced that we'll come through that.

ANDREW MARR: Papers are talking about rationing today. The papers are talking about the first time doctors are going to have to announce rationing in the health service.

ALAN JOHNSON: Yeah but listen, listen, the problem ten years ago was that we didn't have enough doctors. We had to bring them in, deplete countries that could ill afford to lose their medical graduates, to actually meet the demand. Now we're in a situation where you know in ninety seven the in, the number of people on an in-patient waiting list for longer than sixty, than six months was twenty six thousand. Now it's eleven in the whole country. So in terms of what we're doing for the patient at the sharp end?

ANDREW MARR: But this is, with respect, this is, but this is back patting and tweaking and it seems to a lot of people, including Michael Meacher, but a lot of commentators as well, that if that's all that happens now under a new face, you are going down to election defeat at the next general election ..

ALAN JOHNSON: Ah yeah but let's, let's be clear about, let's be clear about this. What I'm saying is that unlike Michael I am not suggesting that the last ten years have been somehow disastrous. So it's, I'm not engaging in this culture of betrayal. The last ten years have been very good. We've done an awful lot over the last ten years. The next general election won't be a vote of thanks.

We need to be saying what we're doing over the next ten years. And it's right of me as a member of government to point out the policy that we've introduced for instance on pensions, on welfare reform. David Miliband's Climate Change Bill. For a while we've been distracted. It's been about personalities. And I understand that. We've never been in a position before where we've known that the sitting prime minister is going to go at a certain date. And we've had to fight elections ..


ALAN JOHNSON: .. with that kind of interregnum in place.

ANDREW MARR: Okay. So, so you need new policies, you need new faces? You need a different, a different feel to the cabinet, do you think?

ALAN JOHNSON: We do and we need to, you know if it's - I fully expect it to be Gordon. If it's me and Gordon you know despite our youthful good looks we're, neither of us are spring chickens. We need to bring through this younger generation. And there is a, an awful lot of talent in the party. That's one of the roles that we need to, we need to do. We need to ensure that there is a move away from the more synthetic aspects of politics. And ..

ANDREW MARR: And you ..

ALAN JOHNSON: .. a ruthless focus on policy. And I think you know ..

ANDREW MARR: After all the stuff about spin and the, do you think there's going to be a bounce after Tony Blair goes?

ALAN JOHNSON: Yes. I think there will. I think there'll be a bounce from an incoming leader if that incoming leader is Gordon. And I think that will take us through. We'd've been through that interregnum. We'd have settled down with the new leadership. We'll know where we'll go, where we're going and we can focus remorselessly then on policy leading up to the next general election.

ANDREW MARR: You've talked eloquently about all the things that have gone right over the last ten years. Now again looking at these results, a lot of people out there think there's stuff that hasn't gone right. What's your biggest regret about the last ten years as a politician?

ALAN JOHNSON: Well I think part of it is, is the, what's called the T, TBGB's, you know that there's different camps and there's seen to be disunity in those camps. And politicians get, get the label pressed upon them whether they're you know Brown supporters ..

ANDREW MARR: Blairites or Brownites.

ALAN JOHNSON: .. or Blair. And I think that's been very unfortunate because I think the two men together have been part of our success story. And now Gordon is perfectly placed to lead us into the next phase. But I think that kind of disunity hasn't helped us.

ANDREW MARR: Do you think that talking about for instance the other Browne that's in the papers today, there has been too much of a sense of people at the top of government moving in a circle of the very rich and privileged and somehow forgetting the people who put them there in the first place?

ALAN JOHNSON: I think there's been some of that. The trade union movement have said in the words of John Monks they were treated like embarrassing elderly relatives. Although I do ask you to remember this Andrew.

You know, if you look at the statistics in the eighties, the bottom twenty per cent saw their income rise by nought point eight per cent. Many years they went backwards. But on average nought point eight per cent.

The top twenty per cent saw their incomes rise by two point five per cent. It was a simple matter. You cut benefits to finance tax cuts. That's what happened then. Since ninety seven ..

ANDREW MARR: Well the rich ..


ANDREW MARR: .. the rich as you know are doing very, very well at the moment.

ALAN JOHNSON: Well, well hang on. Hang on. Since ninety seven that bottom twenty per cent have seen their incomes rise by two point two per cent, higher than the top twenty per cent.

So let's not forget that issues like Working Tax Credit, like the minimum wage, all of this, like the fact there's two point five million more jobs, has led to an enormous amount of progress in terms of that income gap. But look, we're not going to go out there and successfully argue that actually people who are aspirational, who want to bring wealth to this country are somehow now persona non grata in this new world that we move into. That would be a political disaster. We're about helping people from all backgrounds.

We're about governing for the whole of the country. Our raison d'Ítre is simple. It's the eradication of poverty and greater equality. And the methods we use to get there over the last ten years have changed completely, have won the trust of the British people and I absolutely understand that we need to win that trust back.

ANDREW MARR: Have you become too comfortable in power?

ALAN JOHNSON: Maybe. But on the other hand given the history of my party in power which is normally that we are short interludes in Conservative rule, we've actually become more comfortable with being the party of government. We, you know we are, we were set up as a kind of anti-establishment party and we've sometimes found it uncomfortable ..

ANDREW MARR: ... become the establishment. You are the establishment now.

ALAN JOHNSON: .. being in government. Well I think, I think it's very ..

ANDREW MARR: That's partly why people are cross with you.

ALAN JOHNSON: Yeah. Absolutely. That is very true. And it's very important not to lose that sense that actually it's the futility of opposition. We can actually achieve things with long periods in government. We can tackle child poverty. We can tackle pensioner poverty. We can put in, in place the foundations to move ahead on social mobility. You can't do that in one term or even two years, two terms.

ANDREW MARR: And it ..

ALAN JOHNSON: But I think that might lead to the kind of, you know the, the, the lines between ourselves, the communication lines both in our party and to the public becoming corroded and silted up. And we need to clear that and give a very clear message to the British people about what we're about and what we're seeking to achieve.

ANDREW MARR: Alan Johnson thank you very much indeed.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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