Published: 27 March 2017
I'm not really sure why my Sister gave me this book for my Birthday, the career of Alan Johnson had largely passed me by, no one could reasonable suggest that I'm an avid reader of autobiography, not even really an avid reader (although I always intended to be, and perhaps will be, should I ever get that elusive round tuit), but although I set off with every intention of disliking Johnson and his book, I found it in the end to be rather compelling.
Johnson does not give us any particular insight into the political process nor does he reveal anything significant about the main players' characters. He tells us that Tony Blair recruited him to politics, that he admired him from afar, that he thought that he didn't knowingly mislead the public and that he had a difficult relationship with Gordan Brown. Not a lot. Johnson sketches an outline of the political campaigns he was involved in on behalf of the fishermen of Hull, and a couple of policies he helped push through while in ministerial office. He gives us a very few of the major events in his personal life but is fairly scrupulous in leaving any detail regarding friends and family out of it, and maybe that's the key to why I ended up liking the chap so much.
Johnson comes across as such a thoroughly decent chap. Hard working, committed but never to excess, generous in his comments on his allies and mute on the failings of his enemies. Enemies? well really I get the sense that he doesn't really have any enemies, just people that he thinks are wrong on this or that occasion. I'm not sure that he achieved very much politically, other than getting some sort of justice for the deep sea fisherman of Hull but his efforts seem always to be worthwhile and well motivated. It appears that while willing to step up to the plate and take on responsibility Johnson was never driven by any great ambition. Working class in origin and working class in practice until his elevation to Outdoor Secretary of the Union of Communication Workers, it seems that Johnson largely stuck with his roots and if he ever engaged with the social elites to which high office gave him access, he doesn't tell us about it.
Odd isn't it? I don't appear to be describing a book of much interest at all but yet I would still describe it as well written and compelling, as important in its own way as those seminal novels of working class life in the first half of the 20th century, a genre that sadly seems to have faded away. Johnson charts in outline the life of an intelligent working man without much education who yet through the desire to improve the lot of his work mates, rises to high offices of state but is never seduced by ideology or opportunity.
Thank you Mary, a thoroughly good read.