Labour's upheaval

ALAN Johnson's sudden resignation as Shadow Chancellor denies Labour, and the country, of one of the few politicians who genuinely understood, from personal experience, the struggles of ordinary people, particularly in his Hull constituency. A clear communicator, he did not need to use snide cheap shots to make his points.

Yet Mr Johnson's decision, made for personal reasons rather than any difficulties with his leader Ed Miliband over economic policy, is an opportunity for another Yorkshire MP, the combative Ed Balls, to take on this challenging brief, with his wife Yvette Cooper becoming the Shadow Home Secretary.

Both are pivotal roles that will test Britain's most formidable political couple. If they succeed, Labour's future electoral prospects will be greatly enhanced. But, as both Mr Balls and Ms Cooper assume roles which are tailor-made for their abilities, they need to reflect upon the impact of their decisions in the last Labour government.

This is particularly pertinent for Mr Balls. His economic expertise saw him at the heart of the Treasury throughout Labour's period in office, but he did, frequently, become a divisive and abrasive figure who did not command the absolute respect of his opponents, whether within his own party or amongst his Tory opposite numbers.

This needs to change, especially given the many differences between Mr Miliband and Mr Balls on the speed, and scale, of deficit reduction.

The combative new Shadow Chancellor needs to strike a careful balance between personal attacks on the coalition, and in particular Chancellor George Osborne who Mr Balls dislikes intensely, and the need for Labour to develop a creditable financial policy which reflects the mistakes of the past 12 years, particularly on banking regulation and public finances.