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Matthew Elliott: Clegg flounders as Yes Men falter

Clegg--127184009662916600 For those that missed it on Sunday, Andrew Neil skewered Nick Clegg on the Politics Show yesterday (available on the iplayer), and what Nick did (and didn't) say gave a good insight into the Yes campaign's increasing desperation. 

Early on, Nick repeated the claim that the David Cameron was selected via AV. As most ConHome readers will know, the Conservatives use a run-off system that enables voters to pause and consider between rounds. Yet the Yes campaign continue to repeat this completely incorrect soundbite. 

Then he claimed that we are having this referendum "because of the expenses crisis". Given Nick's role in the coalition negotiations, this is a frankly bizarre lie. We are having this referendum for the one and only reason that the Lib Dems demanded it - and to Gordon Brown he demanded it without a referendum! The truth that Clegg didn't want to admit is that in the coalition negotiations last May he sacrificed Lib Dem policies -- on student tuition fees; on nuclear power -- in favour of a self-serving referendum on AV. 

One of Neil's first questions was, if AV passes, when Nick expected to hold another referendum on proportional representation (PR). Nick -- like Charles Kennedy -- denied that AV was being used as a stepping stone to PR. That would, of course, be news to the Lib Dem party, Electoral Reform Society, and myriad other backers of the Yes campaign (Greens, Plaid Cymru, SNP), all of whom only support this "miserable little compromise" because they are hoping it will lead to PR in the future.     

In perhaps the most outrageous of his responses, the leader of the Lib Dems claimed that he "hadn't seen" the Yes campaign's much trumpeted BNP posters. Rather than disavowing this "free publicity" for the BNP (as described by the BNP’s former Deputy Chairman, Simon Darby, on his blog), Nick deployed the classic Arsene Wenger response (see here for the non-football literate) and pleaded ignorance. Given that this has been the Yes campaign's only poster launch to date (and covered with barely contained delight by the Independent), it was either a cowardly evasion on Nick's part, or a reflection of how he has been kept in the dark by the Yes campaign, who are so desperate to avoid any association with toxic Clegg.   

Nick was also left floundering when Andrew asked him whether the 45 (out of 57) Lib Dem MPs elected with less than 50% of the vote weren't "working hard" or "appealing outside the base". By the Yes campaign's logic, because the vast majority of Lib Dem MPs haven't hit the arbitrary 50% target, they must be wastrels relying on the support of a narrow base. 

This, of course, is completely bogus: there are and always will be good and bad MPs, and AV won't magically make MPs hold more surgeries, kiss more babies or repair that crumbling wall any quicker. By definition AV will make no difference in more than 200 so-called safe seats where local MPs get more than 50% of the vote; it can only change the result in highly competitive constituencies where candidates already have every incentive possible to get the support of as many voters as possible - a situation which already occurs under the current system! 

Nick, of course, had no answer to Andrew's question. 

All-in-all, Sunday's Politics Show was a stinging indictment of both Nick Clegg -- who came across as evasive and uninformed -- and the Yes campaign.

As the ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror showed, the Yes Men are faltering just as we reach the final straight. There is still much work to be done to make sure that Britain isn't saddled with Clegg's £250 million mess. But with 16 days to go, it is encouraging that the British people know a truly terrible idea when they see one.


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