An AV Referendum Could be a Political Minefield

This morning on, Mike Smithson speculated that the proposed measures to scrap free milk for under-5’s would be “saved” by the Liberal Democrats to try and retrieve a few points in the polls. Doing so would balance-out the fortunes of the coalition parties a little, especially given the Lib Dem’s plummeting poll numbers. My initial reaction to this was that it turned a political disaster into a crafty, if slightly dangerous piece of political manoeuvring.

Then Number 10 rejected the idea.

This will almost certainly become a non-story today, although it is still the middle of the day, so with my track record on predictions it might well have escalated to international incident by the 10 o’clock news. Either way, the fact that political bloggers are speculating on Lib Dem attempts to pick up a few points in the polls does raise the question as to what sort of a reaction the 12 point polls are getting from the coalition.

Nick Robinson’s excellent “Five Days that Changed Britain” programme (which is on iPlayer until Tuesday if you missed it) highlighted the importance of voting reform for the Liberal Democrats a coalition deal, and how negotiations with Labour forced Cameron to offer a referendum.

The problem for the Liberal Democrats is that this means to a great extent this term will be judged by the referendum. Even though the Alternative Vote system isn’t the full Proportional Representation they want, a “No” vote would do some serious damage to the Lib Dems. At the same time, a “Yes” vote would probably give them a huge boost, but wouldn’t be the full measure they want.

On top of all this, there are still a few splits amongst the party. There are some rows to sort out, and it has been made clear that some would have preferred a coalition with Labour rather than the Conservatives.

What might be interesting is if the Lib Dems find a way to inoculate themselves against a “No” vote by arguing “we didn’t really want it anyway – we really wanted PR”. Any split might prove useful in this, with further left MPs being able to speak out. The only thing left open with this theory, is what happens to those who made the coalition, and in particular Nick Clegg.

This is all speculation, and depends heavily on not only the referendum, but the intervening time as well. Still, the prospect of a referendum on changing the electoral system will have significant consequences before the next general election.