The Liberal Democrats have wanted electoral reform for decades and they have wanted it more than anything else. Nick Clegg could have entered last year’s Coalition negotiations with David Cameron and insisted there be no tuition fees. He could have fought for extra spending for the NHS. He didn’t. The one non-negotiable was some kind of commitment to get rid of Britain’s First Past The Post electoral system.
Liberal Democrats didn’t just want Britain to vote for the Alternative Vote because it would have given them more MPs at nearly every general election – although it would. The big motivation was that it would produce a permanent realignment of British politics. If you want to understand the anger of Vince Cable and Chris Huhne you have to understand that their great hope of a new British politics dominated by them in alliance with left-wing parties has been defeated, defeated for a generation and defeated in large part by the Labour party that they had hoped would be their partners in building a progressive majority.
Only four months ago it all looked so different. The Yes campaign had all of the money. It was ahead in nearly every opinion poll brandishing a message of modernity and change. Every pundit in Britain was attacking the No campaign. It was attacked as juvenile, crude and an insult to the average voter’s intelligence. How did it all change?