6 May 2011

Elections: the scorpion and the frog

What does today mean for constitutional reform? Well, Nick Clegg once said this government was going to shake up the constitution more than at any time since 1832. That ambition just got a whole lot more difficult. It looks like Nick Clegg chose the wrong cause on the wrong date (others, of course, went along with the decision). His next great project to cheer up his troops was to unveil House of Lords reform. He shouldn’t hold his breath.

Not so long ago you would hear people very close to the Prime Minister sounding like they were going to bend over backwards to give Nick Clegg’s plans for an elected House of Lords (elected by PR remember!) a fair wind. The mood tonight I think is very different. There’s an inclination to stick to the terms of the Agreement rigidly and when you look at the Agreement that’s a commitment to not very much at all (“establish a committee to bring forward proposals”).

The broader cause of constitutional reform has been set back by this referendum. Tories will be emboldened to gnash and flay such plans and No. 10 figures say they quite relish the idea of giving their hounds something to exert their energies on, an outlet for their more dogged and potentially troublesome qualities.

Read more as Britain votes ‘no’ to AV

If you were Nick Clegg you might, looking at your Tory partners, be inclined to think of the story of the scorpion and the frog. The frog gives the scorpion a lift across the river only to be bitten … the scorpion says “it’s my nature”.

Lib Dems are piling into Ed Miliband as the man who failed to stamp his authority on his own party. YouGov’s “exit poll” (their inverted commas, not mine) suggests that Labour voters broke against AV in about the same proportions as Labour’s MPs. Here is their breakdown:

Con: 15 per cent for, 85 per cent against
Lab: 47 per cent for, 53 per cent against
LD: 78 per cent for, 22 per cent against

More ammunition for the Lib Dems elsewhere in that poll. Labour supporters, this poll suggests, were much more prone to making up their minds in the last few moments of the campaign – 34 per cent say they made their mind up in the last week or less. Their votes were up for grabs but fell the wrong way for the Yes camp.

YouGov asked how people would’ve voted if there had been other options on the table including Proportional Representation. PR, according to the poll, would’ve got 28 per cent, while AV would’ve got only 11 per cent. The AV cause started from a narrow, relatively friendless base making the campaign’s task even more difficult.

Historic results in Scotland as SNP wins the election – read more

Back in Scotland, by the way, Alex Salmond has said he’ll be giving the PM a call this evening to lay out the parameters of his demands over immediate extra powers for Scotland and amendments to the Scotland Bill. A Treasury source only last month said “no way” in response to the idea the SNP would win the power to set corporation tax for Scotland. As for issuing their own bonds and borrowing up to £5b, hard to see George Osborne going a bundle on that.

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