16 Mar 2011

AV referendum: Could it break the Coalition?

Tory MP Peter Bone says in a piece on Channel 4 News tonight that “it’s absolutely a possibility” that if the Yes campaign wins the AV referendum Tory MPs could try to pull down the Coalition and force a General Election in the window before the new voting system could be brought in.

The plan would be that the Tories could then win an outright majority on first past the post with a manifesto commitment to stick with that system, burying electoral reform for many years to come.

One Tory Cabinet Minister I mentioned that to said that the voters “wouldn’t forgive” Tories for such a self-interested act in the middle of an attempt to close the deficit.

What it tells you though is a mood abroad amongst some Tory MPs who are seriously concerned that the Yes campaign is running away with this – Peter Bone says he thinks it is “theirs to lose”.

Labour Leader Ed Miliband (Getty)
Win-win situation? Labour Leader Ed Miliband

It leaves you thinking that Ed Miliband is in a bit of a win-win situation on this referendum. AV wins and you get your prize and David Cameron has a very tricky ride. Lose and you blame Nick Clegg and watch him squirm.

What is a bit uncomfortable for Ed Miliband is that yet again he is failing to win the vote in his own Parliamentary party (I say “yet again” because he lost amongst MPs to his brother in the leadership contest).

Of the 255 current Labour MPs, 102 have declared for the No campaign so far. Ed Miliband’s Yes campaign has collected 85 or a third of the PLP.

There will no doubt be some more names unveiled at tactical moments through the campaign but it’s not ideal.

Just spoken to Ed Miliband on his way into the Mother’s Union HQ, where he’s delivering his first speech of the campaign (Alan Johnson joked on the way in that it was about the only unionĀ  the Yes campaign had on board).

Ed Miliband admitted there was a serious chance that Labour supporters would simply see this referendum as a choice between kicking Nick Clegg and kicking David Cameron. His aim, he said, was to get them to look beyond that.

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