ALAN Johnson's shock decision to quit as Shadow Chancellor for personal reasons has left Labour reeling after he rejected Ed Miliband's pleas to stay.
Mr Johnson said he was struggling to cope with "issues in my private life" as he quit the most important post in the Shadow Cabinet last night.
Critics have seized on gaffes made by the former postman since being Mr Miliband's surprise choice for the job when he became leader, but Labour insiders insisted his resignation had nothing to do with politics; his marriage to his second wife was said to be in crisis.
His departure is a blow to the Labour leader, who has been forced to turn to Ed Balls to fill the post – the man he deliberately kept out of the job after the leadership election amid concern that he was determined to soften the party's approach to tackling the deficit.
Mr Johnson, the popular Hull West and Hessle MP and Labour's best communicator, told Mr Miliband of his intention to leave on Monday and efforts to persuade him to stay on continued until they reached "the end of the road" yesterday, according to a Labour source.
In a statement released late yesterday afternoon, Mr Johnson said: "I have decided to resign from the Shadow Cabinet for personal reasons to do with my family. I have found it difficult to cope with these personal issues in my private life whilst carrying out an important front bench role.
He said Mr Miliband was a "formidable" leader and had shown "nothing but support and kindness".
No more details of Mr Johnson's personal problems were given, although colleagues said they were not health-related. His marriage was said to be in trouble.
Mr Johnson was a surprise choice as Shadow Chancellor because of his lack of an economic pedigree, and his joke on getting the job that he would need to buy an economics manual was repeatedly used by opponents.
He was also embarrassed by being unable to quote the rate of National Insurance on TV.
Mr Miliband accepted the resignation "with great regret" and described Mr Johnson, who first became an MP in 1997 and held a number of Cabinet posts under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, as an "outstanding colleague and a great friend".
The Labour leader moved swiftly in a mini-reshuffle which leaves Yorkshire MPs in possession of the party's key posts.
Morley and Outwood MP Mr Balls's old job of Shadow Home Secretary is filled by his wife Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford.
The Tories and Liberal Democrats immediately seized on Mr Balls' history as economic adviser to Gordon Brown – branding him the "man responsible for Britain's economic mess".
However, Chancellor George Osborne knows he is Labour's strongest performer on the economy.
Having to turn to Mr Balls is embarrassing for Mr Miliband, having kept him out of the key job in the first place and their relationship will face intense scrutiny for signs of any splits.
Asked whether he would shift Labour's economic policy away from cuts, Mr Balls said: "Ed and Alan in the last few months have set out the direction that is going to continue."
Bradford South MP and Shadow Home Office Minister Gerry Sutcliffe, who ran Mr Johnson's campaign for the deputy leadership in 1997 and is a good friend, said: "It's as much a shock to me as it is to anyone else.
"It's clear Ed wanted him to stay but Alan decided not to and that's clearly a blow because he's going to lose a popular member of the Shadow Cabinet."
Yorkshire's big hitters
ALAN Johnson's resignation sparked a mini Shadow Cabinet reshuffle, with two of Yorkshire highest-profile MPs among the big winners.
Here are the changes in full:
Shadow Chancellor – Ed Balls, MP for Morley and Outwood;
Shadow Home Secretary – Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford;
Shadow Foreign Secretary – Douglas Alexander;
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary – Liam Byrne;
Shadow Cabinet Office Minister – Tessa Jowell.