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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > December 2016 > Delivery man

Delivery man

A politician more interested in striking deals than posturing? Alan Johnson belongs to another age, says Michael White

The Long and Winding Road by Alan Johnson (Bantam Press, £16.99)

Since Labour’s last election winner Tony Blair left office to a standing ovation from the House of Commons almost a decade ago, the party has been looking for a leader who can both enthuse its activists and win power in Parliament. In an age that craves authenticity so much that it risks being seduced by dreamers and fraudsters, few social democratic politicians in the west can match Alan Johnson’s personal history as a basis for moral authority. If only…

Born and raised in poverty in a west London slum, abandoned by his father, his mother dead at 42 when he was 13, his dreams of rock stardom wrecked at 17 by the theft of his electric guitar, Johnson pulled himself up by the proverbial bootstraps— in his case a postman’s walking boots. He told the story of how he did it in the first two volumes of his award-winning memoirs, This Boy (2013) and Please, Mister Postman (2014). When this third and final volume, The Long and Winding Road, begins in 1990 we find the author—“a 40-year-old divorcee and grandfather”—shortly to be elected leader of the Union of Communication Workers (UCW). The UCW was a moderate trade union once led by Tom Jackson, famous for his handlebar moustache, who was his first significant patron.

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In Prospect’s December issue: Sam Tanenhaus argues that Donald Trump was born to be a campaigning demagogue, but will he be too bored to rule? Ed Miliband and Michael Gove debate whether parliament should have a binding vote on the terms of Brexit and Christian Wolmar examines the driverless car delusion. Also in this issue: James Harkin examines the situation in Syria, focussing on Raqqa Ruth Dudley Edwards explores the battle in Ireland since the UK’s decision to leave the EU—will the border become a division? And Michael White looks at the life of Alan Johnson, the Labour MP and former postie.