Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Electoral reform: Liberal Democrats push for 2011 referendum on AV.

The deal which Clegg made with Cameron involved a promise on voting reform, the big question now is when will that vote take place and will the coalition survive it.

Liberal Democrat cabinet members are pressing for a referendum on voting reform for the election of MPs to be held next May, seeing it as the best chance of winning public backing for one of Nick Clegg's main political projects.

The Lib Dems fear a delayed referendum would lead voters to reject change and punish an unpopular coalition government in the wake of a programme of big spending cuts.

A referendum on 5 May 2011 could also boost turnout since nearly 12 million voters will be going to the polls in elections for the Scottish parliament, Welsh assembly and about 280 English local councils.

But a referendum has the potential to disrupt the coalition since David Cameron and almost the entire Conservative party oppose voting reform.

The prime minister gave no hint today on when the referendum on the alternative vote system (AV) would be held.

Pro-AV Cabinet members said today that they regarded May 2011 as probably the optimum date, but said the issue was extremely delicate since Cameron and Clegg would be campaigning on different sides during the referendum, which will offer a choice between the existing first- past-the-post system and AV.

Certain senior Tories are already arguing that AV will lead to constant hung parliaments, which is odd considering the way Cameron has been portraying the present hung parliament as the best thing since sliced bread, but it's an indication of the lie which both the Conservatives and the Liberals are currently having to engage in.

Cameron is in bed with Clegg because he had no other choice, Clegg is in bed with Cameron because... well, I've never really understood his reasons for doing what he is doing.

But he hopes to get voting reform. And, unlike a coalition with Labour, he seeks voting reform from the party who will benefit least from it's passing.

Conservative governments have historically achieved landslides with around 41% of the popular vote, they have certainly - for decades now - never come to power with a majority of the population backing them.

So, it is not in their interests to back AV.

Which is why Clegg will find them very reluctant to play the game when it comes to picking a time to ask the public to vote on AV.

The Conservatives said today that the bill on AV would also contain measures to reduce the number of constituencies by as much as 10% and to equalise their size – a complex, controversial and time consuming measure that will benefit the Tories.

The Lib Dems say the referendum can be held before the boundary review is complete as long as the legislation has been passed setting the constituency boundary review in train. But some senior Conservative sources were hinting the boundary review would have to be under way before the AV referendum could staged, so delaying its date.

Tory sources were also emphasising that if the referendum rejected a change to the voting system, changes to constituency boundaries would still be implemented, a move likely to make it easier for their party to be re-elected.

The Tories are interested in gerrymandering, the Liberals want AV. And yet these two now find themselves in the same bed pretending that they are both in the same team.

What they both want on this subject are polar opposites. This coalition is about to be severely tested. And, should Clegg prove unable to deliver on voting reform, many in his party will start to ask what this coalition is for.

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