“The Long and Winding Road” is the third in Alan Johnson’s trilogy of memoirs. The previous two books are: “This Boy“, about his harrowing childhood and “Please Mister Postman” about his days delivering the Royal Mail. (You’ll notice that all the books are titled after songs from Alan Johnson’s heroes – The Beatles).
I’ve reviewed both previous books here on LDV (see links above), and to a large extent it helps to read the whole series from the beginning. If you pick up “The Long and Winding Road”, the subject matter, the daily grind of a union leader, an MP and a jobbing minister, can strike one, at first, as rather uninteresting. However, if you’ve stuck with Alan Johnson as he described his appalling upbringing and the detail of his postal work, his “voice” tends to get inside one, and you tend to empathise as he forges on up into the heady heights of the political world.
Highlights of this book include how Mr Johnson was effectively given a safe Labour seat, that of Hull West and Hessle, just a fortnight before election day in 1997. So he only had to endure the campaign slog for two weeks! Lucky fellow! That said, he has since been an excellent constituency MP, not least in supporting the fight for compensation and pension rights for Hull’s long distance trawlermen. That is a tale which takes up much of the book and is inspiring.
I was taken by Alan Johnson’s explanation of his position in support of the Iraq invasion in 2002. He puts it in compelling terms, the like of which I have never heard from Tony Blair:
It’s my belief that if any random group of 650 citizens had been asked to debate and decide this issue, the majority would have voted to insist that the ‘serious consequences’ mentioned in UN Resolution 1441 were implemented; that Saddam and his murderous regime, which had been ignoring and humiliating the UN for over a decade, should not be allowed yet again to disregard the international community.
This is not a view I share, but it is quite refreshing to read a relatively convincing defence of the move, at long last.
What else is in the book? Well there are several chapters detailing life at the top of the Communications Workers’ Union. A very interesting account of the defence of the Post Office from the privatisation intentions of M. Heseltine. And much about life in a giddying variety of ministerial posts in the Labour government up to 2010.
I may have made the book sound slightly dry and low on excitement, but Alan Johnson is a very comfortable narrator. He feels like something of a friendly companion, as he talks you through his life, and, when taken in conjunction with his previous two volumes, this is a very interesting and addictive read. Alan Johnson comes across as a surprisingly reasonable and endearing human being!