Gordon MacMillan,  UK Politics

Support for PR plan grows

At the weekend Alan Johnson took advantage of the current political turmoil in UK politics and pushed the case for electoral reform. It is clearly the right time to have such a debate, which last saw the light of day a decade ago shortly after Labour came to power, coming as it does after a few torrid weeks in parliament where the current system has shown itself to be deeply flawed.

Johnson is basically endorsing the pretty much forgotten plan produced by the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead in October 1998, which honoured a joint agreement on constitutional reform with the Liberal Democrats.

Johnson’s plans are said to be receiving growing support in Cabinet and could be included in the next Labour manifesto, according to a report in The Times.

The paper says that up to 100 Labour MPs have expressed interest in electoral reform, putting the Health Secretary at the forefront of a popular party campaign.

Johnson has called for a referendum on proportional representation to be held on the day of the next general election. The Guardian says he is putting pressure on the prime minister to offer a “genuine radical alternative”. Good luck with that one. Gordon Brown has shown he has no radicalism and that he is no alternative.

The health secretary denies this is his opening gambit to seize the leadership of the Labour Party from Brown.

“No, and it’s quite unfair to suggest that it is [a bid for the leadership]. It is absolutely nothing to do with that.”

Yesterday Johnson wrote that the public should be asked whether they wanted a more proportional voting system for elections to Westminster. He said that voters should be asked whether they would support an “alternative vote plus” system for choosing MPs, rather than the current first-past-the-post system.

He also denied to the paper that his support for PR was based on projections that Labour can only win if they secure a coalition deal with the Lib Dems. I wish I were that sophisticated,” he said. “I am simply a supporter of getting rid of a system that doesn’t empower the voter.”