She is also a politician of rare acumen. Her name is little known outside Westminster so far but, before long, I suspect, that will change. The prime minister is known to be highly impressed by the performance of this relatively young woman – she is 47.
Earlier this month, she unveiled the first major review of Company Law for 150 years, a timely event given the outbreak of Enron-style scandals in the United States.
And at the recent conference of the ICAEW, she made clear that the government was determined to avoid any such scandal here.
Johnson, unlike so many politicians of her generation, does not use words idly. Soundbites are anathema to her. Soon after her entry into Parliament in 1997, she was put on the powerful Public Administration select committee where she was a feisty operator and a skilful questioner of the witnesses before them. Nor is she afraid to upset her colleagues.
She was, for instance, publicly heckled by some left-wing women MPs when she defended the government’s decision to abolish student grants in 1998.You are unlikely ever to see her name in lights – she is not into showmanship – but one thing is for sure: Blair has marked her card. So do not be surprised if she pops up in his Cabinet before the next general election.
Her background as a retail administration manager, her academic depth and sheer industriousness have suddenly turned her into a key government figure. A couple of years from now, Melanie Johnson could become a household name. And she would deserve it.
- Chris Moncrieff is a senior political analyst at PA news
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