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Boris Johnson v Alan Johnson on proportional representation

JohnsonVJohnson In a barnstorming article for The Daily Telegraph the Mayor of London launches a savage attack on MPs and backs David Cameron's call for an immediate General Election:

"How can Parliament raise more taxes when the toiling voters have seen the duck houses and the plasma screens bought with taxpayers' money? How can Members call on the courts to punish benefit cheats when they have so manifestly cheated themselves? How can they sit there and pass a single law when it looks as though some of them may have broken the laws against fraud and theft? They can't. It's over. They must go to the country, and I don't mean to their second homes in the country."


Boris Johnson also attacks the attempts by advocates of proportional representation to use expenses-gate to get their favoured constitutional reform introduced on the back of the current crisis:

"We don't need a constitutional convention. We don't need to contemplate proportional representation, since that will only intensify the power of the party machines and create even more lobby fodder. We want a new breed of MPs who will consistently tell the whips to get stuffed; who will smash the brutal and intellectually enervating system of party discipline that turns Westminster into a kind of Seventies Leyland car factory, apathetically turning out badly assembled laws to plague the people of this country."

David Cameron won't like that talk of a new breed of MPs.  I do not believe that yesterday's re-opening of the candidates list amounted to much more than a press release.  CCHQ retains very strict control of candidates.  Candidates, for example, have been threatened with deselection if they join the Better Off Out campaign - something I did last week.

Boris' statement of opposition to PR is very timely.  In today's Times the Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, effectively launches his bid for the Labour leadership by suggesting that Britain holds a referendum on introducing proportional representation.  It's certainly a subject well outside his Health brief.

Boris is right to say that PR transfers power to party machines.  Just look at the system of election that Labour introduced for MEPs.  We cannot choose between individuals but are forced to accept a list of candidates (of varying qualities) imposed by the political parties.  PR also makes it harder to change governments.  Small parties gain disproportionate power and give hope to extremist parties like the BNP.  Click here for William Norton's demolition of the case for PR.  Also worth reading is this from Iain Martin over the weekend.

One final comment: Alan Johnson should repair Labour's broken promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty before he promises a referendum on PR which most voters will see as a deserate attempt by a dying Labour government to curry favour with the Liberal Democrats (who also broke their promise on a Lisbon vote).

Tim Montgomerie


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