It is almost as if someone wants the referendum on electoral reform to fail the difficulty is working out quite who. As Nick Clegg announced the May 6 vote he was fighting off criticism that the vote will cause confusion as its being held on the same day as local elections in England plus votes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on devolved legislatures. That’s slightly bizarre.
But that’s not really Clegg’s biggest problem. If he loses the referendum Clegg faces trouble within his party that could put the coalition at risk. The party backed the coalition deal as it thought it would get and win electoral reform. But as Michael White points out if the coalition were to collapse Cameron could reasonably go to the country saying he did his best with the Lib Dems, but “they’re just not reliable partners”. He could then still hold the promised 2015 election under first past the post.
“Unless the country turns sharply to the left – not likely? – he’d [Cameron] probably get his majority. Yes? As Martin Kettle points out today, these are tough times for European social democrats despite the recession,” says White.
This and Clegg conceding on Channel 4 News that the AV system is not the best system or even fully proportional: “As a political reformer, I would like to see a fully proportional system,” he said. Well why doesn’t he campaign for one? Or do a deal with a party that is more likely to give him that change rather than opting for something that is a “a little short of” PR and is simply “better than what we’ve got”.
Well part of the answer to that came in how Clegg attacked Labour in the commons and heaped the blame on the party as the Telegraph points out:
He could almost be a Conservative, such is the energy and anger he put into his demolition job of Labour’s dishonesty and failures on constitutional reform. David Cameron – ‘my Rt Hon friend’ – looked particularly pleased. Clegg’s performance will have strengthened No10’s claim that the two are joined at the hip.
I suppose that will be hip Cameron will be stepping over if this all goes tits up for the Lib Dems. You have to wonder then if the party might split — over those who want to remain in the coalition and those who do not. You can already imagine Cameron and Clegg walking off into the sunset together (well at least into the back garden of Number 10. They do like it there.