The former Home Secretary's new memoir chronicles the changing patterns of working-class lifeby DJ Taylor / September 18, 2014 / Leave a comment
Please, Mr Postman by Alan Johnson (Bantam Press £16.99)
In strict category terms, This Boy, the first volume of memoirs by the former Home Secretary Alan Johnson, is what used to be known in the trade as a “Labour autobiography”—a once abundant genre, now rather more restricted in its scope. Like the Labour Party itself, the Labour autobiography started making its presence felt something under a century ago.
Though written by all sorts and conditions of men—Red Clydesiders superannuated from the backbenches, trades unionists elevated to the House of Lords, middle-class intellectuals bent on revising the party constitution—such books were generally united by their reliance on the symbolic moment. The author might have ended up in parliament by way of Grimepit Colliery Secondary School and the National Union of Mineworkers, or Winchester College and guilt-appeasing mission-work in the East End slums, but invariably there would come a chapter in which our hero was blacklisted by his former employer, browsed his way through Das Kapital, or, in the case of the middle-class intellectual, got to grips with the Oxford Philosophy, Politics and Economics course, and divined that here was the crucible in which his beliefs were being forged.
The distinguishing mark of Johnson’s account of his formative years in t…