Key UK opposition figure quits for 'family reasons'

21st January 2011, Comments 0 comments

The finance spokesman for Britain's opposition Labour party, Alan Johnson, stepped down Thursday citing personal reasons, just three months after being appointed to the post as an economic novice.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said he had accepted Johnson's resignation with "regret" and announced that he would be replaced by Ed Balls, the current home affairs spokesman and former right-hand man of ex-premier Gordon Brown.

"I have decided to resign from the Shadow Cabinet for personal reasons to do with my family," Johnson said in a statement.

"I have found it difficult to cope with these personal issues in my private life whilst carrying out an important frontbench role."

Johnson was appointed in October having no finance background, and one of his first comments was to joke that he would have to buy an economics primer -- a remark his opponents later flung back in his face.

He made a string of subsequent gaffes including being unable to give a television interviewer a key figure for the national insurance payments made by employers.

Miliband denied it had been a mistake to appoint Johnson, telling the BBC that the former interior minister was stepping down for "deeply personal reasons" and that his resignation had "nothing to do with the job."

Johnson was widely seen as a centrist influence with working class roots, having been a postman for 19 years and then worked his way up through trade unions.

A Labour party spokesman denied that a Sunday newspaper was about to publish details about Johnson's private life -- a situation which has sparked several resignations in British political life over the years.

What Johnson lacked in economic knowledge, Balls -- a former minister in the finance ministry -- has in abundance.

He had been widely tipped to be handed the finance spokesman's brief after the Labour leadership battle but lost out to Johnson.

He is closely associated with the economic policies of Brown, finance minister for a decade before he became prime minister, who talent spotted him and brought him into politics.

Balls ran against Miliband in the contest to become Labour leader and has strong views on tackling the country's record deficit which might not necessarily match those of his boss.

His style is also more combative than Johnson's and he has argued more aggressively against government cuts.

© 2011 AFP

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