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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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

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