MPs are as confused as psephologists about the likely impact of the double dose of electoral reform which could hit voters in 2015. Not only are they trying to get their head round the possible effects of the alternative vote system, but they also have to factor in the ramifications of a fall in the number of seats from 650 to 600.
A study by the Electoral Reform Society soon after the election suggested AV could cost the Tories 25 seats, of which 22 would go to the Lib Dems.
But any Lib Dem rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of the number of their parliamentary colleagues rising by nearly half should read this post on PoliticalBetting. Mike Smithson suggests the system could end up wiping out the Lib Dems, as it means the end of tactical voting, which has benefitted the party both in the north, where voters want to keep out the Tories, and the South West, where they don’t want Labour.
Perhaps this is why Nick Clegg before the election called a switch to AV a “miserable little compromise”. Read more
It would have been more of a surprise if the coalition had decided to hold its referendum on voting reform on a different day; for example in October.
The working assumption for the last month has been that the ballot would co-incide with the May 5 local elections, as the BBC is reporting this morning. The only arguments against that had been that a] it could confuse people if they had to vote on two separate things and b] the Electoral Commission may not be in favour. Neither seem to be major obstacles.
The Lib Dems are itching to get on and hold the referendum as soon as possible; for many it is the one major reason for being in government – as strange as that may seem to sceptics.
Their first challenge will be explaining the AV system to people and then convincing them to care one way or another. The second will be rebutting a strong anti campaign by their supposed friends in the Tory party.
Meanwhile Labour will not hesitate to exploit the situation to its own advantage. Forget the fact that some Labour figures have gone public on their enthusiasm for electoral reform in recent years. (Some have seemed more sincere than others). Key frontbenchers see the referendum as a golden opportunity to force the downfall of the coalition, as splits appear between the yellow and blue partners. Read more