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Brexit, benefits and Labour’s Alan Johnson’s new book

BREXIT, benefits and a new book were all on the agenda for former Home Secretary Alan Johnson when he visited Penarth.

The politician and former postman was at All Saints Church at the weekend to discuss his memoirs with Cardiff South and Penarth MP Stephen Doughty.

The memoirs cover Johnson’s life from his childhood to his days in the Cabinet.

He held several cabinet positions in both the Blair and Brown governments, including Health Secretary and Education Secretary and was tipped to be Labour leader.

Alan Johnson with Stephen Doughty MP and Mel Griffin, the proprietor of Griffin Books, at the event.

Alan Johnson with Stephen Doughty MP and Mel Griffin, the proprietor of Griffin Books, at the event.

As well as discussing the third volume of his memoirs The Long and Winding Road, Johnson recounted stories from his childhood in which he had to live through poverty and hunger.

Over 200 tickets were sold for the packed-out event organised by bookshop Griffin Books.

In an interview with The Cardiffian, Mr Johnson discussed a range of topics from the upcoming Brexit negotiations to the film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ and the benefits system, which Johnson’s own family relied on during his impoverished childhood.

“I think George Osborne was disgraceful in trying to paint a society where, in his terms, it’s strivers versus skivers.” Mr Johnson said.

“Labour created the welfare state on the back of the Beveridge report but it was never welfare that was handed out without any conditions. It was about ensuring that people who had fallen on hard times are given help to get back into work.

“Sending people away to be the passive recipients of benefits for the rest of their lives and watch daytime television is never what the welfare state was about.

“I think what ‘I, Daniel Blake’ shows is the difficulties that people face even when they’ve got very good reasons not to be seeking work. It’s almost got to a situation now where there’s no degree of disability- you’re all considered available for work.”

Alan Johnson MP

Alan Johnson MP.

Mr Johnson went on to discuss what he would do if he was part of upcoming Brexit negotiations in parliament following the High Court ruling which said the Prime Minister must first receive approval from parliament before beginning formal negotiations to leave the EU.

“I would focus on ensuring Britain remains in the single market and remains in the customs union because I feel that is very important for jobs and our economy.” Mr Johnson said.

“The main thing I would like to pick up is whether, on the other side of the table in the EU, if there’s any movement towards us because I think the big issue in the referendum was immigration.

“If there was any appetite at all amongst other European countries to change the free movement rules, that would be quite interesting. I don’t know whether there’s enough focus on picking up messages that are coming from the other side of the negotiating table.”

Johnson also answered questions from the audience, including one from a Penarth resident who was unhappy with Labour’s direction under Jeremy Corbyn.

“We will come back.” Johnson said. “It needs to be remembered that Labour was formed to represent working class people- not to be a debating society.”

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