A great holiday read from the cheeky chappie of politics

alan johnson bookPlease Mister Postman by Alan Johnson is a great book to take on holiday with you, if you haven’t already read it. It’s now available in paperback, published by Corgi Books for a cover price of £8.99, although you can get it for less.

There are two types of memoirs by politicians: boring self-justification and interesting, good reads. Johnson’s writings are firmly in the second category, along there with Alan Clark, Chris Mullin and Paddy Ashdown (“A Fortunate Life”). Very often the early days of a politician are the most interesting – as was the case with John Major’s auto-biography.

Alan Johnson is an attractive personality anyway – the cheeky chappie of politics who manages to be funny and self-deprecating as well as sensible.

But his life story is extraordinary – brought up by a single mother and then his teenage sister. He became a postman and a father/husband in his teens. He then read a lot and rose through the ranks of the postal union to became its national leader.

This book tells the story of those early days. There are a few passages which tell of personal tragedies which happened around Johnson. His telling of the death through alcohol of his brother-in-law is harrowing and deeply sad.

We also have detailed descriptions of the processes at Barnes and Slough postal sorting offices. Although that sounds very anorakky, in fact it comes across as quite interesting – especially given the subsequent modernisation of the processes. We also get an interesting picture of famous union leader, Tom Jackson (the one with the big handle-bar moustache), and the shenanigans of the unions at a key time for them.

All in all, this is a fascinating and compelling book by the man who delivered post to the Home Secretary in Dorneywood, and then ended up living in the same house as Home Secretary himself. A remarkable tale on several levels.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Richard Underhill 30th Jul '15 - 4:58pm

    Alan Johnson will lead the Labour campaign in the referendum, but needs to wait for his party to sort out their leadership campaigns and deputy leadership campaigns. Much depends on whether DC negotiates away things employees like.

  • Nick Tregoning 31st Jul '15 - 9:03am

    I grant you that there are few political similarities, but Alan Johnson appears to be to Labour who Rab Butler (younger persons will need to ask their parents) was to a previous Tory generation; the best leader they never had.

  • I never had much time for Alan Johnson when he was Home Secretary – just as bad as the rest of them really. Remember the case of the man from Sheffield with Asperger’s Syndrome who he wanted to extradite to the USA to face hacking charges – a country whose criminal justice system shows little understanding of or sympathy for mental illness. He was thwarted by the judicial system while he was in office, but when Teresa May quite rightly turned down the US extradition request I recall that Alan Johnson was quickly on his feet to criticise her for doing so.

  • Exactly right Paul.

    Johnson writes very movingly, but not self-pityingly, about conquering his nerves around public speaking when he was a young union official. He says that one of his barriers was a working-class pressure not to “make a show of yourself” or put on airs and graces. It is a fascinating counter to the Dave and Gideon born to rule/ public school stuff.

    I once saw a prominent Lib Dem white with fear before a speech and was, stupidly, amazed to realise that even the most gifted speakers can be struck by stage fright.

  • I can see circumstances where AJ leads the Labour Party into the 2020 general election.
    I certainly think whoever wins in September is doomed to be replaced within a couple of years. And they will then need a ‘unifying’ figure. Can you think of anyone better from their current ranks of MPs? I know he has declined nomination in the past, but he is the ultimate party man, and the circumstances of 2016/17 will be so dire for them that I believe he would take on the harness. You heard it here first! 🙂

  • Richard Underhill 31st Jul '15 - 9:58pm

    I agree with Nick.

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