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Alan Arthur Johnson (born 17 May 1950) is a Britishmarker Labour politician, who has been the Member of Parliament for Hull West and Hesslemarker since 1997. He has been the Home Secretary since June 2009, and before that filled a wide variety of Cabinet positions, including both Health and Education Secretary. He is the first former trade union leader to become a Cabinet Minister since Frank Cousins in 1964.

Early life

Born in Londonmarker, and orphaned at the age of 12 when his mother died, Johnson was then effectively brought up by his older sister when the two were assigned a council flat by their child welfare officer.He passed the 11 plus exam and attended Sloane Grammar School in Chelseamarker and left school at the age of 15. He then stacked shelves at Tescomarker before becoming a postman at 18. He was interested in music and joined two pop music bands. Johnson joined the Union of Communication Workers, becoming a branch official. He joined the Labour Party in 1971, although he considered himself a Marxist ideologically aligned with the Communist Party of Great Britain. A full-time union official from 1987, he became General Secretary of the newly formed Communication Workers Union in 1993 following a series of union mergers.

Before entering Parliamentmarker Johnson was a member of Labour's National Executive Committee. During this time he was the only major union leader to support the abolition of Clause IV.

Member of Parliament

Just three weeks before the 1997 general election, Johnson was selected to stand for Parliament in the safe Labour seat of Hull West and Hesslemarker when the previous incumbent, Stuart Randall, stood down suddenly. Randall was subsequently elevated to the House of Lordsmarker.

In government

He was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to Dawn Primarolo in 1997 and achieved his first ministerial post at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in 1999. He was moved to the Department for Education and Skills in 2003 as Minister for Higher Education though he had left school at 15.

Johnson entered the Cabinet in September 2004 as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions after the resignation of Andrew Smith. After the 2005 election he was appointed to the post of Secretary of State for Productivity, Energy and Industry as head of a department which replaced the DTI but which soon reverted to the old name. On 5 May 2006, one day after the English local elections, his brief was changed to that of Secretary of State for Education and Skills, replacing Ruth Kelly.

He became Secretary of State for Health on 28 June 2007, in the first Cabinet of new Prime Minister Gordon Brown, succeeding Patricia Hewitt. He was later appointed to the position of Home Secretary, one of the four Great Offices of State, in a turbulent reshuffle on 5 June 2009, succeeding Jacqui Smith.

Education Secretary

During his time as education secretary, Johnson brought in new ideas and proposals, including encouraging parents to spend more time with their children in a bid to help them progress with their literacy and numeracy skills. Johnson has also previously expressed some concerns over diplomas. Johnson has also opened-up a debate in parliament discussing what parental situation is best. He stated it is the parents themselves who make the difference not what marital situation they are in. Johnson looked at improving pay and working conditions for teachers during his tenure as Education Secretary.

His voting record from the Public Whip sees him voting strongly in favour of ID Cards and student top-up fees. He also voted strongly in favour of the Iraq war and Labour's anti-terror laws, and strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war.

Deputy Leadership

Johnson publicly stated in May 2006 he expected to stand for the post of Deputy Leader of the Labour Party when John Prescott stepped down. Some suggested he might stand against Gordon Brown for the leadership of the Labour Party when Tony Blair resigned, and various reports in the summer of 2006 suggested he would become the favoured candidate of the Blairite faction .

Johnson told the BBC in an interview on 9 November 2006 that he would in fact be supporting Brown and standing as deputy leader. He was successfully nominated onto the ballot paper for Labour Deputy leader with most number of nominations. On 24 June 2007, Johnson was narrowly beaten for the deputy leadership by Harriet Harman. He led in rounds 2 to 4 of the voting, until he was overtaken by Harman in the last round, eventually finishing with 49.56% of the vote.

Initially the Communication Workers Union announced its support of him for deputy leader but after negative reaction to this at the 2007 CWU conference the union decided not to recommend anyone.

Health Secretary

Johnson became Secretary of State for Health on 28 June 2007, succeeding Patricia Hewitt in Prime Minister Gordon Brown's first Cabinet. He later became slightly infamous for attacking breast cancer patient Debbie Hirst because she attempted to buy the cancer drug Avastin, which the NHS had denied her. Johnson told Parliament, patients “cannot, in one episode of treatment, be treated on the NHS and then allowed, as part of the same episode and the same treatment, to pay money for more drugs. That way lies the end of the founding principles of the NHS.”

Home Secretary

On 5 June 2009, he was appointed to the position of Home Secretary during a reshuffle, replacing the first female holder of the post, Jacqui Smith.

Drug policy

In October 2009 Alan Johnson sacked the Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), Professor David Nutt. Nutt had accused the government of "distorting" and "devaluing" research evidence in the debate over illicit drugs, criticising it for making political decisions with regard to drug classifications in rejecting the scientific advice to downgrade MDMA (Ecstasy) from a class A drug, and rejecting the scientific advice not to reclassify cannabis from class C to class B drug. Alan Johnson wrote to the professor, "It is important that the government's messages on drugs are clear and as an advisor you do nothing to undermine public understanding of them. I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy and have therefore lost confidence in your ability to advise me as Chair of the ACMD." In response Professor Nutt stated "If scientists are not allowed to engage in the debate at this interface then you devalue their contribution to policy making and undermine a major source of carefully considered and evidence based advice." Two other scientific advisors to the ACMD, Dr Les King, and Marion Walker, resigned shortly afterwards.

On 2 November 2009, Mr Johnson told Parliament that Professor Nutt’s comments during a lecture had been made “without prior notice to the Home Office and had breached guidelines”. Later, doubt was cast on the integrity of this information, leading to an accusation that Mr Johnson had misled Parliament .

The rules of conduct allow any adviser to represent his field of expertise in a personal capacity, providing they make it clear when they are not speaking in their capacity as committee members. People present have provided assurances that this condition was fulfilled. The guidelines make no stipulation that the Home Office should be given prior notice, except for "media appearances" that members have been asked to undertake on behalf of the ACMD, or which specifically cover the work of the ACMD. The lecture reputedly took place without an invited media presence.

In any case, Dr Evan Harris MP has said that the professor had discussed his paper with the Home Office's chief scientific adviser beforehand and that the lecture had even been advertised on the Home Office's website. Three more members of the advisory committee resigned following a meeting with Mr Johnson on the 10 November 2009.

Personal life

Johnson has been married twice. Firstly to Judith Cox, in 1968, with whom he has one son and two daughters. After his divorce he married Laura Jane Patient in 1991, with whom he has one son who was born in 2000. Johnson, when asked by a Mail on Sunday survey in 2004 if he believed in God replied that he did not believe in God.


  1. The charming Mr Johnson, The Economist, 14 September 2006
  2. Tran, Mark (30 October 2009). Government drug adviser David Nutt sacked. The Guardian.
  3. Easton, Mark (30 October 2009). Nutt gets the sack. BBC News.
  4. Government drugs adviser Dr Les King resigns. BBC News. 1 November 2009.
  5. Government drugs adviser Marion Walker resigns. BBC News. 1 November 2009.
  6. Johnson 'misled MPs over adviser'. BBC News. 8 November 2009.

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