I once told Alan Johnson that some in the cabinet were arguing that he should replace Alastair Darling as chancellor. His communication skills, wry good humour and common sense were regarded by many as making him the perfect foil to Gordon Brown and more likely to cheer up the nation up than Darling himself.
I well recall his reaction - he looked like he'd swallowed a wasp. Unlike the other obvious candidate back then - Ed Balls - he had no economic training and was not desperate to do the job.
So, why has Johnson been given the economic portfolio now?
In part because he is not Ed Balls - whose experience, strong views and pugilistic manner made him a frightening as well as an attractive choice for the job.
In part because appointing Yvette Cooper would look too much like an obvious snub to her husband.
In part because - as I wrote earlier - Ed Miliband needs an experienced symbol of his reaching out to the majority of the Labour membership and Parliamentary party who voted for his brother and who don't want to rip up Labour's past.
Though he's a former postie and union leader, no-one will ever accuse Johnson of being "red" like Ed. In what surely will be his last big job in politics, he poses no threat to his young new leader. A loyalist by instinct, he will now be more likely to give his advice in private than in public.
AJ - as he's fondly known - will not come up with an alternative economic policy on his own but he will be able to deploy his wry humour and connection with the real world to portray George Osborne as an out-of-touch rich kid.
His appointment is a sign of Ed Miliband's relative weakness in his party but also of his determination to heal the breach which began when he challenged his brother.
Update, 14:51: Proof that Ed Miliband has played it safe comes in the form of Alan Johnson's words on the deficit to the Guardian on 24 September:
"We've got to be very careful how we play this," Johnson says about suggestions from the younger Miliband's camp that Labour should soften Alistair Darling's plans to halve the deficit over four years with £44bn of cuts. "We're coming back up in the polls but all the signs are public are not buying this 'Labour cuts' argument: the deficit was something we just did because we just threw money around rather than the fiscal stimulus to save people's houses. They want to be absolutely clear that we are taking a sensible approach to this. They don't want to see the deficit go on forever."
Johnson says Labour must understand why the coalition is ahead in the polls on the issue of the deficit. "I think the reason why they took to the coalition is they thought, well, here's someone rolling their sleeves up and getting down to the job."
Labour will only be able to attack the coalition's more drastic deficit plans, involving £61bn cuts, if it keeps a credible plan itself. "We have to be sure we've got a valid, logical, argument for how we would tackle this differently, and why it would not have the disastrous consequences that I think 25% cuts [will] have."