Alan Johnson held some of the most senior roles in the governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Having been elected to Parliament in 1997, he went on to become the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, Trade & Industry, Education, Health, and finally Home Secretary. Alan began his life in absolute poverty, growing up in one of the most deprived parts of London. The Johnson family had no central heating, no indoor toilet and his mother, Lily, was a victim of domestic abuse. She died when Alan was just 12 years old, making him and his sister orphans. He left school at 15 before taking up a job stacking shelves in Tesco and becoming a postman aged 18.
Margaret Thatcher’s longest serving cabinet minister is well-known for the resignation speech many cite as having prompted her downfall but the majority of his ministerial career bears the hallmarks of a constructive working relationship that Howe characterises as having been “like a marriage”. He first worked with Thatcher while she was Secretary of State for Education under Ted Heath and attributes the longevity of their careers to shared ideals and a mutual appreciation of the other’s abilities. Howe became Chancellor of Exchequer during a time of extreme economic uncertainty in Britain, overseeing the radical 1981 Budget that some credit with having brought Britain out of the gloom of the 1970s and cementing the monetarist policies that remained central to successive Budgets thereafter.
Travelling to Washington DC and witnessing Martin Luther King’s speech at the Washington Monument certainly helped. University saw John diversify into a number of different areas including comedy and theatre, I asked him why he chose journalism over his other pursuits.
“I suppose I had a choice between being a comic actor of some kind and being a journalist and I always thought that journalism would be more exciting, I thought we would travel the world, which in those days was quite difficult to do. If you wanted to go to Vietnam for example, it was quite difficult to do that if you were an ordinary person, where as if you are a reporter, it’s often horribly easy to find yourself in Vietnam because that was the big war that was going on and there were a lot of reporters involved.”