So the Royal Wedding is to be on April 29. Congratulations to the couple. They’ve picked a date that effectively parks a golden landau in the path of the political horse race. It will come a few weeks after the cuts kick in, and a few days before an epochal referendum on electoral reform.
Some have – with some justification — seen this clash as a problem for Nick Clegg, who’ll find his campaign for change overshadowed by the wedding excitement. For a couple of weeks, more column inches are likely to be devoted to the type of confetti than the merits of the AV system.
Clegg’s aides say he is “relaxed”. They would say that. But there are some decent reasons for Lib Dems seeing the bright side of this wedding. Here’s the case for Clegg to cheer the Royal couple.
1) Low turnout. If this referendum was starved of publicity, it is likely to limit the vote to die-hards. More people are exercised by the perceived injustice of the current system than are willing to man the barricades for First Past the Post. A differential turnout could help the Lib Dems.
2) Feelgood factor. One of the finest modern achievements of the British monarchy has been timing big Royal weddings to coincide with gloomy periods. A wedding weeks after the spending cuts bite in earnest will raise spirits just like it did in 1947 and 1981. If people are feeling cheerful about the state of the world, they are more likely to vote for a system that creates more coalitions (and indeed say Yes in general). Also if people are happier with the government, they will be less likely to attempt to tear it apart, and a no vote is the surest way to cause problems for the coalition.
3) Airtime. This is related to the first point. Most No campaigns are won by picking apart the case for change and sowing doubts in the mind of the public. The right-wing press — which will certainly make the case against change most vocally — will be somewhat more distracted by Royal preparations than the rest of Fleet Street. Equally, the Yes campaign will have less chance to tie itself in knots or suffer self-inflicted wounds.