81% of Tory members say AV should only pass if 40% take part in referendum
"The Government has argued against a turnout threshold on the grounds that it must been seen to respect the will of the people. But would a turnout of 30 per cent in a referendum, with only 16 per cent making a majority, really count as the will of the people? Ministers also argue that a threshold means that people who stay away have a veto. But surely the onus is on those who wish to change the constitution to make and win their case? A key objective for ministers, rightly, is to keep the coalition working while the two parties argue about AV. That is vital. It has been confirmed by ministers, though, that a turnout threshold but not an outcome threshold would be consistent with the coalition agreement. A turnout threshold does not contradict the conditions on which the two parties agreed to work together."
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1,484 Tory members took part in the latest ConservativeHome survey on 10th and 11th February.
The most interesting finding was very strong support for the forthcoming AV referendum to be subject to a 40% participation threshold. Earlier this week by the narrowest of margins (219 to 218), the House of Lords voted for a Labour amendment that would mean any change to Britain's electoral system would only be valid if 40% of voters took part in the referendum. The threshold is supported by senior Tory peers including Michael Forsyth, John Gummer, Norman Lamont, Nigel Lawson and Norman Tebbit.
The ConHome survey found 81% agreeing that "There should be a turnout of 40% or more for the AV referendum to be legally binding".
Paul Goodman made the case for such a threshold last September:
"Major constitutional change shouldn't be effected on a miserable turnout. As matters stand, AV could be forced through by 51% to 49 - on a turnout as low on paper as under 1%. That won't happen, of course. Turnout will be higher. But by how much? To forestall the possibility of AV being forced through by a small minority of voters as a whole, a turnout threshold should be inserted into the bill."
The Government is expected to reverse the Lords amendment when it returns to the Comnmons next week but Bill Cash is leading an attempt to keep it. If the threshold is struck down in the Commons but is supported by a big rebellion of Tory MPs, there is a good chance more Tory peers will vote to keep it in a second Lords vote. Pro-threshold Tory peers had not mobilised for last week's surprise Labour amendment.