Book – The Long and Winding Road by Alan Johnson

Book – The Long and Winding Road by Alan Johnson

This is the third and final exhilarating instalment of fascinating memoirs from Alan Johnson, the one where he got into politics.

As stated before probably when talking about This Boy and Please Mr Postman it’s surprising how much agree with Mr Johnson considering he is a union man. Even this book states ‘if minimum standards were available by law, what incentive was there to join a union?’ (Unions generally don’t sit well with me; whereas on they are vital for those who don’t have a voice, high-profile union leaders have a bad reputation. The film Made in Dagenham did nothing to discourage my viewpoint on this).

Of course a Union leader would have needed to travel up and down the country to solve disputes and negotiate better terms for his members. But the lifestyle of other union managers seems to be filled an awful lot of overnighters and restaurant meals on generous expenses (and a decent salary). And really, how can they represent very large numbers? They cannot possibly speak for all of them.

It’s the same thing with MPs with large constituents; both sets of people seem to have an overwhelming desire to debate rather than do. ‘Opposition was a safe place to be if compromise was to be avoided and purity of principle preserved’ sums up my disregard for many politicians. I only recently learnt the term three-line-whip. I’ve spent my life trying to stay away from politics but I’m appalled that my MP is forced to vote a certain away which may well be against her constituents wishes. How is that representing us? Anyway, I learn in this book that the 3-line-whip term comes from if something is underlined 3 times in the notes, you have to turn up to vote as instructed, which appalls me even more.

A more positive learning point, I know understand why MPs are appointed constituencies that they know nothing about and indeed don’t live in, something that comes into my head every election time. Don’t get me started on why MPs can’t vote electronically, or frankly call in, like at auctions rather than just be in London to vote. So much of our tax money is spent on unnecessary second housing and transportation to and from one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Alan Johnson did have a connection to Hull, the area appointed to him to run for MP by the Labour party and once again we are taken back to his childhood in poverty as he explains this visiting his Aunt there as a kid.

Back then, not in a bullet proof car with police protection and staff , that was only when he became Home Secretary. I am fascinated with all the pompous and ceremonial things this poor kid from West London had to get used to as he rose to the highest level of service. The reason they have outriders is to not have them be a sitting target in slow-moving traffic – not to get them there faster. This never occurred to me.

So, I’ve never been interested in politics but here I am, eagerly turning pages to learn more. That’s because the politics the author talks about is my kind of politics.

I’d read about the Fishermen’s who lost their livelihoods and skilled colleagues plus the mysterious loss of the ship, The Gaul (there is no black box in a ship) not to mention lack of pensions when I visited Hull (City of Culture) last year. This is what Alan Johnson MP tackled first as they were still chasing promised compensation a devastating 23 years after the government’s bad negotiating meant they could no longer fish. Skilled workers were cast aside by being classified as causal workers because of the ad-hoc nature of their employment. Just like in Made in Dagenham but here, there was no union negotiating for them.

There’s also mention of dragging in the WTD (Working Time Directive) giving employees rights to breaks and better holidays and legalising whistle blowing. Hard to think I was alive in the world when this wasn’t the case.

Regarding the divisive Iraq war, the author goes into detail about the groups of people who said they knew what weapons Saddam Hussein did have and that the UN inspectors had reported were missing when they did a check, right before they were evicted from the country. So did they act intelligently on the information they had? I hope so.

As a huge Beetles fan and Johnson being of the generation where they had the large impact, sharing the stage with the continually down-to-earth Paul McCartney was huge for this MP. Even it was for doing a speech rather than playing the guitar. ‘Now I love him for his courtesy as well as for the lifelong joy he brought me’.

On the NHS, I enjoyed learning about the renowned surgeon (a junior minister) who wanted to see what life was like in front line of the NHS. Of course, no-one noticed or spoke to him when he was dressed as the cleaner. There’s also a note about celebrating 60 years of NHS in 2008 with waiting lists at a historic low and funding at record high. And about setting up a Healthcare Commission to have a neutral body to explore how hospitals were run.

We are all ever grateful the marvel that is the NHS but it in dire need of modernisation. (Again, don’t get me started).

As a big fan of acronyms, I do love that one department name change would have meant Alan Johnson would have been the Minister for H.E.L.L. As the straight forward SSH (Secretary of State for Health) he presided over the NHS, at the time, the third biggest employer in the world behind the Chinese Red Army and Indian Railways. 1.3m employees and a budget of £110b – 9% of national wealth – and going from £460 spend per head to £1600 in 13 years.

It’s still sadly in the top 5 employers in the world with 1.5m staff, way too big to successfully manage all of the UKs changing healthcare needs.

Like the previous two, this book is thoroughly engaging and The Long and Winding Road has given a good insight into the life of an MP and why I still never, ever want to be involved in politics.

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