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Building a Conservative Majority (11): Holding a referendum on election day

By Tim Montgomerie
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One of the reasons why the Conservative Party had such good results in last year's local elections was that many extra Tory voters came out to vote in order to defeat AV. Additionally we had the centre right press all united in campaigning hard against a change to the electoral system. This has led some Tory strategists to wonder if a referendum on the same day as the next general election might produce similar dividends. Republican strategists say that George W Bush's victory in the 2004 election owed a great deal to the gay marriage referenda that were taking place in key states on the same day. Social conservatives, otherwise unhappy with the direction of the Bush presidency, flocked to the polls in order to defeat the legalisation of same-sex unions.

Could the same tactic work in Britain? Could a referendum on Britain's relationship with Europe, for example, ensure high energy levels among Tory leaflet deliverers and also high turnout amongst Tory-inclined voters? The extra advantage of a vote on Europe would be that it would reduce the incentive to vote for UKIP (ConHQ are increasingly concerned that a strong UKIP vote might again make the difference in many marginal seats). People could use the Europe referendum to register their scepticism about Brussels and at the same time vote Conservative to ensure Labour wasn't elected by the backdoor. Since I raised the possibility of a referendum in my post on Monday one Tory MP suggested a vote on Britain's membership of the ECHR.

One big difficulty, of course, is whether the Lib Dems will be happy to vote for legislation that would enable such a referendum. On the face of it the answer would be no but the referendum might be approved if passage was tied to something else that Nick Clegg's party really wanted.


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