Boris highlights Tory contradiction on electoral reform

Cameron cannot claim that FPTP always produces a decisive result and warn a hung parliament is possi

It's worth reading Boris Johnson's interview with the Telegraph today, particularly for the passage in which he suggests that he may be open to supporting electoral reform.

Discussing a recent debate with Alan Johnson on proportional representation, he remarks:

Although my side won the debate and I was listening to the arguments, I have to accept that there are arguments that are difficult to despatch very easily. There is an unfairness in the current system. The advantage of first-past-the-post is that it delivers a decisive result. But that very virtue may be disproved. If it turns out that we wanted to kick them out and we didn't, that is a big argument against FPTP.

Boris has recognised a key contradiction in David Cameron's approach to electoral reform. On the one hand, the Tory leader consistently claims that first-past-the-post always produces a decisive result. On the other, he spent much of this week warning of the risk of a hung parliament. These two propositions are not mutually compatible.

Should Cameron wish to make a credible case against electoral reform, he'd better start thinking of some new arguments.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Michel Barnier is Britain's best friend, but the Brexiteers are too shallow to notice

The right's obsession with humilating a man who should be a great British asset is part of why negotiations are in a mess. 

Sam Coates of the Times has the inside track on what Theresa May is planning to say in her big speech in Florence tomorrow: a direct appeal to the leaders of the European Union’s member states over the head of Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator.

I explained some of the problems with this approach in my morning briefing earlier today, but just to reiterate: the major difficulty is that Barnier’s mandate as a negotiator hasn’t emerged fully formed from the mind of some scheming bureaucrat in the European Commissio, but after discussion and agreement by the heads of member states. There are problems with the EU approach to sequencing talks, but the chances of changing it by appealing to the people who set it in the first place seems unlikely, to put it mildly.  

Barnier seems to occupy a strange position in the demonology of right-wing Brexiteers, I suspect largely due to ignorance about how the EU works, and in some cases Francophobia. The reality is that Barnier is the single politician outside of the United Kingdom with the most to lose from a bad Brexit deal.

If the Brexit talks end badly, then that will be the first line of Barnier’s obituary. Back in his native France, the centre-right is in opposition and none of the candidates vying to lead the Republicans are are going to give him a big domestic job to save his reputation.

His dream of parlaying a successful turn as the EU27’s chief negotiator into running the Commission relies not only on the talks succeeding, but him cultivating a good relationship with the heads of government across the EU27. In other words: for Barnier to get what he wants, he needs both to secure a good deal and to keep to the objectives set for him by the heads of member states. A good deal for all sides is a great deal for Barnier. 

As a result, the Brexit elite ought to see Barnier as what he really is: their best friend on the other side of the table. Instead, they are indulging in fantasies about tricking Barnier, undermining Barnier, and overcoming Barnier. In short, once again, they are bungling Brexit because they don’t want to think about it or approach it seriously. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.