Oct. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Alan Johnson, a former labor-union leader who held Cabinet posts under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, was named Treasury spokesman for the opposition Labour Party.
Johnson, 60, who was home secretary until Labour lost power in May, topped the list of Shadow Cabinet appointments announced today in a statement by newly elected leader Ed Miliband.
The former postman is a surprise choice for the job, which was expected by bookmakers to be filled by either Ed Balls or his wife Yvette Cooper. Johnson will challenge Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne as he embarks on the deepest budget cuts since World War II.
“These are testing times and we will be a responsible opposition acting in the national interest,” Johnson said in an e-mailed statement. “We will offer a real and responsible alternative to the dangerous plans of this coalition government, which is damaging the economic future of millions of families.”
Cooper was appointed foreign affairs spokesman and Balls becomes spokesman for home affairs. Sadiq Khan, who ran Miliband’s campaign for the leadership, was rewarded with the justice brief while Angela Eagle will shadow the work of Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.
Miliband may have decided not to appoint Cooper or Balls to the Treasury role to avoid the talk of “psychodrama” that attended his winning the Labour leadership over his brother David, said Justin Fisher, professor of politics at London’s Brunel University.
“It removes the possibility of a story about tension in the Balls-Cooper household,” Fisher said in a telephone interview. “They also both worked for Brown in the Treasury and if he’d appointed either of them it would have been grist to the mill for the Conservatives who are majoring on the idea that the economic situation is all Labour’s fault.”
Miliband was presented with a list of 19 lawmakers for his top team last night after a vote by party members in the House of Commons. Cooper topped the poll, with John Healey, who becomes health spokesman, in second place and Balls in third.
Johnson faces the first test in his new role on Oct. 20, when Osborne sets out the results of his spending review. Most departments face cuts of a quarter on average by 2015 as he seeks to erase a deficit of 11 percent of economic output in the last fiscal year.
The appointment of Johnson may give Miliband more control over economic policy. Unlike Johnson, Balls and Cooper held key economic posts in government. Cooper was chief secretary to the Treasury and Balls advised Brown for most of his decade as finance minister.
Balls, who ran in the Labour leadership race, was the most vocal critic of government plans to step up the pace of spending cuts, arguing against attempting to reduce the deficit until the country was clear of recession.
Miliband, following his election as leader on Sept. 25, described former Labour finance minister Alistair Darling’s plan to cut the deficit in half in four years as “a good starting point.”
Transport Secretary Philip Hammond suggested Johnson, who held five Cabinet posts in five years, would not stay in the job for long.
“Alan Johnson’s economic policy is a bit of an unknown to us,” Hammond told BBC television. “It isn’t clear that he is going to be the future. He looks like a caretaker appointment to me.”
Married with four children, Johnson was general secretary of the Communication Workers Union before entering Parliament in the 1997 election that swept Blair to power. He gained his first Cabinet post in 2004 as work and pensions secretary. He became trade and industry secretary in 2005 and education secretary in 2006.
In 2006, Johnson ruled himself out as a contender to succeed Blair as Labour leader, allowing Brown to take over unopposed the following year. Brown made him health secretary in 2007 and home secretary in 2009.
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