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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 June 2007, 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK
Profile: Alan Johnson

Alan Johnson
Age: 56
Job: Education Secretary
Political Pedigree: Blairite ex-postman

Alan Johnson has been pipped to the job of Labour deputy by Harriet Harman, by the slenderest of margins.

He may be a former postie and union leader with that elusive "ordinary bloke" image - but that does not make him an old Labour dinosaur by any means.

In fact, Mr Johnson has plenty of opponents in the union movement who believe he is one of the "Ultras", as they call the most ardent Blairites, who have moved a million miles away from them and their demands.

That, of course, is exactly why he was seen as one of the strongest potential "stop Gordon" candidates in the forthcoming Labour leadership contest.

But he confirmed he would step aside from that particular battle, endorsing Mr Brown as a "towering political figure" and concentrating instead on winning the contest to be deputy leader.

He once told GMTV the idea of him entering No 10 was similar to "the idea of putting the Beagle on to Mars - a nice idea but doomed to failure".

Tipped for success

Mr Johnson has been the MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle - a constituency neighbouring that of John Prescott, the deputy prime minister - since 1997.

We can't afford to be inward-looking when we are looking at issues as important as global warming and poverty
Alan Johnson

He was the first former union leader in four decades to become a Cabinet minister when he took on the post of work and pensions secretary in 2004.

The previous person to make such a move was Frank Cousins, then General Secretary of the Transport & General Workers' Union, who joined Harold Wilson's team in 1964.

Tony Blair and Alan Johnson
He is viewed as a loyal Blairite and wants to be Labour's deputy leader

The former joint general secretary of the Communication Workers Union is well regarded by New Labour's high command and his quiet, effective style and easy manner has won him many admirers across the Labour movement - even among those who would not vote for him.

Back in the 1990s he was the only senior union leader to back the abolition of Labour's clause IV, severing the party's historic commitment to public ownership.

He impressed Tony Blair in 2004 with his handling of the politically sensitive higher education brief, steering through the government's controversial top-up fee proposals in the teeth of backbench opposition.

Mr Johnson later joked of this effort as a "charm offensive", adding that he had supplied the charm, while Education Secretary Charles Clarke had been "offensive".

Some observers say he may fill the same role, smoothing some of the Gordon Brown's rough edges - a sort of Tony Blair and John Prescott double act in reverse.

At his campaign launch Mr Johnson likened government to being on a "long-haul flight".

He added: "We are having a bit of refuelling in terms of our policy and we are changing the pilot and co-pilot....

"But we need to keep... a joint direction where we are going."

Mr Johnson, 56, was born in London. Orphaned at the age of 12, he was raised by his elder sister in a council flat.

Senior figure

He attended Sloane Grammar School in Chelsea and became a shelf-stacker in Tesco and then a postman, never going to university.

He was already a senior figure within Labour's ranks and a member of the party's ruling national executive committee when he entered the Commons.

He was selected as a parliamentary candidate just three weeks before the 1997 election when the incumbent stepped down at short notice.

He was tipped for early promotion and, after a short spell as parliamentary private secretary to Dawn Primarolo, he was appointed to a junior ministerial role at the Department of Trade and Industry.

He steered the Postal Services Act through its Commons stages.

Go-between

After the 2001 election, he became a minister of state in the same department, with responsibility for employment relations.

He was regarded by Downing Street as an ideal go-between to manage the government's links with the unions.

Mr Johnson spent 15 months as the minister for lifelong learning in the Department for Education and Skills.

He also held roles as the secretary of state for the Department for Work and Pensions and for the Department of Trade and Industry.

He took up his current position in the Cabinet reshuffle which followed Labour's poor performance at the local elections in May last year.




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