Clegg confirms 5 May 2011 as AV poll date
Updated on 05 July 2010
Nick Clegg confirms 5 May 2011 will be the date for a vote on the alternative vote system - but he admits to Channel 4 News that AV is "a little short of proportional representation" as Political Editor Gary Gibbon reports.
In a statement to the House of Commons on the government's proposals for parliamentary reform, the deputy prime minister said the government had "a unique duty to restore the trust in the political system".
Mr Clegg said the referendum would be simple, "asking people whether they want to adopt the alternative vote, yes or no".
Under the AV system, voters rank candidates by number. The candidate who wins 50 per cent of first choices is elected. If no-one gets more than 50 per cent of first choices, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and second preferences are redistributed between the other candidates until someone gets a majority.
The deputy prime minister explained that the date of the referendum had been driven by three considerations -
- all parties fought the general election on an absolute pledge to move fast to fix the political system.
- it was important to avoid asking people to keep returning to the ballot box.
- costs had to be kept as low as possible "in these straitened times"
The fact that the referendum will take place on the same day as the elections to the Scottish parliament, the Welsh assembly, the Northern Ireland assembly and local elections in England "will save an estimated £17m," he said.
More from Channel 4 News on voting reform
- Vote reform referendum set for May 2010
- Cameron prods Clegg towards a voting referendum
- Voting reform: what are the options?
- Electoral reform: who would be the winners?
- Electoral reform: a call for change
- Who Knows Who: Nick Clegg
He also pledged to cut the number of MPs in the Commons from 650 to 600 and to equalise the size of constituencies to ensure that people's votes carry the same weight "no matter where they live".
He pointed out that the House of Commons "is the largest directly elected chamber in the European Union". He also noted that capping the number of MPs would save money: "50 fewer MPs saves £12m a year on pay, pensions and allowances alone," he claimed.
Mr Clegg told MPs the current political system was clearly "broken and needs to be fixed", explaining that the government's programme aimed to transfer power "away from the executive to empower parliament, and away from parliament to empower people".
The first measure announced this afternoon was legislation to secure fixed parliamentary terms, which will mean the date of the next general election will be 7 May 2015 - "a hugely significant constitutional innovation," Mr Clegg said.
A bill will be introduced before the summer recess that will specify -
- traditional powers of no confidence will be put into law, and a vote of no confidence will still only require a simply majority.
- if, after a vote of no confidence, a government cannot be formed within 14 days, parliament will be dissolved and a general election held.
- parliament will be able to vote for an early and immediate dissolution - a majority of two-thirds will be needed to carry the vote.
Mr Clegg promised these changes would make it impossible for any government to force a dissolution for its own purposes.
'AV is a little short of proportional representation'
Interviewed on Channel 4 News, Nick Clegg told Jon Snow the government was bringing two things together: giving people a say on whether they want a different electoral system, and secondly, making sure that your vote is worth the same value, wherever you live. They were, he said, "complementary measures that deal with the same problem".
And he appeared to reject the suggestion that the Conservatives were getting a lot more out of the arrangement than the Liberal Democrats. The winners, he said, would be the British people. Mr Clegg said that after the expenses scandals, people wanted to be sure that they could hold politicians to account.
On the subject of AV, the deputy prime minister admitted that "as a political reformer, I would like to see a fully proportional system". He conceded that what was being offered under today's announced referendum was "a little short of that – but it's a lot, lot better than what we've got".
The Liberal Democrats had always campaigned "to break the logjam of an old system which hasn't changed for decades and decades and decades", Mr Clegg said.
In response to Jon Snow's suggestion that the AV system did not constitute proportional representation, Nick Clegg claimed he was "both a revolutionary in terms of political reform, but also a pragmatist". He said the referendum proposal was "a big, big change" in the context of the other things the government was proposing, such as House of Lords reform.
He suggested that "most people are warming to the idea that whilst we’ve come together to govern in partnership together in the national interest, of course there are issues where we do not agree – and are going to be quite open and relaxed about it".
In conclusion, the deputy prime minister rejected the idea that the presence of the Lib Dems in the coalition government offered the Conservatives a fig leaf to obscure their wish to slash the size of the welfare state. "We have inherited an almighty mess from the Labour government," he told Channel 4 News.
He continued: "There is nothing ideological about the budget we’ve had to announce. We've had to announce it because we have to do it." He said without the cuts interest rates would go up, there would be less money to spend on schools and hospitals, and there would be fewer jobs. "We have to do this, however difficult it is."