AV

Britain went to the polls on Thursday in a mix of local elections in England and national polls for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Voters also have their say in a referendum on changing the electoral system to the alternative vote. 

Jim Pickard

One rumour of recent days is that the Lib Dems are so demoralised about their impending AV defeat that none will bother to attend the official count down in Docklands. The theory adds to the relentlessly negative narrative about Clegg’s party.

In fact it’s not quite true. I’m told that Chris Huhne, Lord Ashdown, Danny Alexander, Charles Kennedy and Simon Hughes will all in fact be at Friday’s count, if not for the entire afternoon/evening. 

George Parker, political editor, tells the FT’s Daniel Garrahan that the referendum on the alternative vote has been dominated by party political bickering. And the cracks that have started to appear in the coalition will lead to a more business-like relationship between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.  

Jim Pickard

I’ve just returned from the final No 2 AV rally at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster*. (Inexplicably the Yes rally is at 8.30pm tonight, after most journalists have gone home/to the pub.)

A succession of speakers took to the stage. One was Lord Owen, his lush hair in contrast to the shaved heads of the others – John Healey, Paul Boateng, William Hague - declaring the referendum was an unfortunate “experiment”. The peer revealed that Gordon Brown had offered the LibDems a referendum on PR (Owen’s preference) as well as AV.

Labour’s Healey was quite persuasive, albeit slightly party political, suggesting that Britain should be concentrating on more important issues such as job losses in the NHS. 

Two tests await Ed Miliband, Labour leader, and his party: polls across the country, and a referendum on the alternative voting system for which he is a principal campaigner. George Parker, political editor, talks to the leader of the UK opposition about the upcoming ballots, his call for a cultural change in the City o f London, and the coalition government’s deficit reduction strategy.   

Nick Clegg has been warned by senior Conservative MPs that they will wreak revenge on him for the Liberal Democrats’ “Easter uprising”, including frustrating his plans for elections to the House of Lords. 

Jim Pickard

With several weeks to go before the AV referendum the arguments are starting to get slightly repetitive. But Vince Cable has tried a different slant on the debate during this morning’s joint press conference with Ed Miliband.

Instead of citing other countries with AV (Fiji, Australia, Papua New Guinea) he chose the – not entirely comparable – example of Strictly Come Dancing. 

Jo Johnson

As it’s Guy Fawkes Day, at the end of a long run of bum-numbingly exhausting late night sittings, the idea of metaphorically blowing up parliament and all its antiquated working practices has a fleeting appeal.  

Kiran Stacey

Westminster is alive again: the corridors are full, there a queues for the canteens, gossip is being traded. But even though a large chunk of the House is made up of new MPs, fresh faced, and hopefully refreshed after a long summer break, the mood already seems sour.

Lib Dems and Tories alike are still trying to come to terms with the coalition, and the first thing all MPs are being told after the summer is to vote against their own manifestos.

It is a very odd quirk of the bill for a referendum on AV that all parties will now vote against the position they argued for before the election. The Lib Dems believe AV doesn’t go far enough, while the Tories think it goes too far, but both will vote for the referendum as a central part of the coalition agreement. Labour doesn’t like the boundary change that is being bundled in with it and will vote against. 

Jim Pickard

The Australian election has been fun to observe from the other side of the planet, what with the back-stabbing of Kevin Rudd, the shaky campaign and the hung Parliament.

I have a curious fact about voting Down Under which you may not know about. In elections for the senate (their upper house) there are multiple candidates for some states such as Victoria and New South Wales. Because the system is AV* you have the “below the line” choice of listing up to 80 candidates in order of preference. 

Jim Pickard

The fledgling “yes” campaign for AV says it is too early to make premature judgments. The Electoral Reform Society, for example, says that polls will inevitably jump around given that the formal campaigns have not yet started. The referendum is not until May – and could even be in September if rebel Tory MPs and Labour MPs unite to amend the relevant bill.

But our analysis for today’s FT shows that the yes campaign was ahead by 28 points in May (according to ComRes) and as little as 1 point ahead in recent weeks (says YouGov). It may not be a co-incidence that support has dwindled just as backing for the Lib Dems (the main proponents of electoral reform) has also fallen sharply. 

Kiran Stacey

The Guardian’s story that Labour is planning to vote against the AV bill as it currently stands is an important development in the passage of electoral reform. But Labour won’t be able to block the bill. What is really worrying pro-reform campaigners is the growing movement to change the date of the referendum. The FT revealed this morning that Labour is close to agreeing with Tory rebels to vote for an amendment for such a change.

Electoral reform campaigners

Electoral reform campaigners

The “yes” movement calculates the bill will get through the Commons – rebel Tories will be whipped into submission on that point by party bosses who know that without it the coalition is likely to crumble.

But if those rebels team up with Labour to force a change of date (something on which Tory whips might give them more leeway), Lib Dems and other AV campaigners know the chances of a “yes” vote are significantly reduced. At the moment, the referendum is scheduled for May 5, when there are regional elections in Wales and Scotland. That should boost the turnout in those places, where support for AV is strongest.

So what chance the government suffering its first Commons defeat on the issue of the date?