25 May 2009

Alan Johnson is on manoeuvres


Alan Johnson writes in The Times this morning calling for a referendum on electoral reform to held on the same day as the next general election.  His article is followed up by no less then four pieces all headlining Johnson’s initiative.

Peter Riddell sums up his intervention:

Demands for electoral reform are invariably about political advantage. So Alan Johnson’s endorsement of the plan produced by the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead in October 1998 invokes comparison with the reaction to the death of Metternich, the wily Austrian statesman of the 19th century — “Now what did he mean by that?”

First and foremost, Mr Johnson wants to present himself as a political reformer at a time of turmoil regarding MPs: in his own words, overhauling the engine, not just cleaning the upholstery. But his means of doing so are bold and unexpected.

Mr Johnson’s proposal that a referendum be held on the choice between AV plus and first-past-the-post on the same day as the next general election is intended to portray Labour as reformers even though there would be no government recommendation. If the outcome of the general election were a hung Parliament, but voters backed AV plus, there would be a strong incentive for the Lib Dems to support Labour, since the Tories would oppose the change. So what Mr Johnson is really talking about is an attempted Labour rescue plan or lifeboat in the face of the storm of public disillusionment.

Riddell is right.  The move by Johnson is clearly for political advantage.  As Riddell says, Johnson judges that the best Labour can hope for is a hung parliament at the next election.  Calling for electoral reform will attract LibDem support.

In The Sun, Trevor Kavanagh reports:

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman has allegedly done a deal with Johnson for a clear run at the premiership if she can keep her job.

If the June results indicate that Labour can hold onto power at the next election with LibDem support, then Johnson’s proposals will be taken seriously.

At long last Johnson has broken cover with a shrewd intervention.  Whether he will move against Brown in a decisive way after the June elections remains to be seen.

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