Johnson calls for end to ‘macho politics’

Labour must stop indulging in “macho politics” and unite to win a fourth term in government, Alan Johnson has said.

The education secretary warned the party faced “enormous challenges” which must be debated, but said these were not ideological debates and should not result in the kind of divisions seen in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Speaking at the Social Market Foundation, Mr Johnson admitted the past week “was not my party’s finest hour”, warning: “We must ensure that the self-indulgence of what was literally macho politics does not escalate into self-destruction.”

During what has been widely seen as the launch of his bid for the Labour leadership, Mr Johnson said there was “no need to turn the clock back, cover old ground or seek refuge in entrenched positions”.

“Similarly, we mustn’t stymie debate or close down new ideas. We’ve never made it to a third electoral term before, let alone have to worry about renewal in government,” he said.

“Right now, we need an honest, measured and comradely policy debate which will help us to a fourth term in government.”

His comments reflected those made by Ed Balls MP, Gordon Brown’s closest ally, earlier this morning, who said that Labour members “don’t fundamentally disagree on the big issues” but needed to have debates on policy.

“There is going to be a transition over the next year and the likelihood is there’ll be a leadership election and there’ll be different candidates come forward,” he told Today.

“And the important thing is we have a debate about the future of our country which is clear and open and public, and then we make a decision.”

Asked if he could see Mr Johnson becoming the next Labour leader, Mr Balls replied: “Of course I could.”

In a speech in London this morning, Mr Johnson’s stressed the Labour party’s determination to eradicate poverty “is the glue which holds us together”.

It was “connecting our past with our future, linking our ideological and pragmatic wings, distilling old Labour and New Labour into real Labour”, he said.

However, the education secretary made clear he backed Tony Blair’s preference for using the private and voluntary sectors in the provision of public services, saying “we must take a pragmatic rather than a dogmatic approach” to the issue.

In comments that will anger the unions fighting for an end to private sector involvement in schools and hospitals, he said: “We should take the best from all to deliver the finest services to everyone.”