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It's decision time for Cameron. First Past The Post or Nick Clegg?

Tim Montgomerie

The No2AV campaign launches today. Matthew Elliott, campaign director, told the BBC:

"We have got a very clear message. A move towards AV would be costly to the taxpayer, would also bring greater complexity to our electoral system and produce less accountable government."

These messages are summarised in a Sun Says column:

"Changes to our voting system may not be the hottest topic of conversation. But Britain needs to wake up. The way we are all governed could soon alter fundamentally. As part of the Coalition deal, Nick Clegg secured a referendum on the Alternative Voting method where first-past-the-post is scrapped. Mr Clegg's AV crusade could cost taxpayers £250m - enough for 8,000 nurses or 5,000 bobbies. But it's not just the money. AV could land us with permanent coalitions, not decisive leadership. Manifesto pledges would become meaningless as horse-trading took place. Only smaller parties like the Lib Dems would stand to benefit. Sounds like AV is something to AVoid."

Recent polls have suggested that the Yes campaign has an early lead but polls at this stage can only be indicative. Most people haven't yet thought about the issue.

6a00d83451b31c69e20147e23ff1bc970b-500wi David Cameron will make a speech against AV on Friday but, for reasons of Coalition ettiquette, it will be difficult for him to play the anti-Clegg card (as I have recommended - click on images on right to enlarge).

On Radio 4's Today programme the War Room blogger, James Frayne, who ran the successful campaign in the north east against John Prescott's plan for a regional assembly, urged the No campaign to target Mr Clegg. Clegg personifies what will happen under AV. Hung parliaments will become the norm and so will broken promises and Lib Dem influence. Andrew Hawkins of pollster ComRes, also on Today, said that a prominent anti-Clegg message may be crucial to getting Labour voters, in particular, to back the current electoral system. 

Yesterday, Iain Martin became the latest commentator to urge this tactic on the No2AV campaign but he also noted that Downing Street is restricting the No campaign's ability to do this. The Prime Minister must be careful about putting the Coalition before his party's interest in blocking AV. Tory MPs already feel he lost a general election that he should have won. They feel he promised an unnecessary referendum on AV in order to get the Liberal Democrats to join the Coalition. Cameron must not get himself into a position where he is blamed for disarming the No2AV campaign.

Before we get the referendum the BIll has to pass its final parliamentary stages in the next 24 hours. Lord Lamont has launched a last ditch effort to get MPs to accept a Lords amendment that AV should not pass unless 40% of people turnout in the referendum. 81% of Tory members agree with him but Cameron is determined to overturn the Lords amendment. The Telegraph backs the 40% threshold this morning:

"The Lib Dems make much of unfair electoral outcomes, yet in this case a significant constitutional upheaval could be foisted on the country by a small number of people. Reformers are far more likely to turn out than those who don’t care or are content with the existing system. The Lords voted recently to require a turnout of at least 40 per cent in the referendum to validate any majority in favour of AV – this is surely the minimum threshold required for such a crucial decision. MPs will vote on the Lords amendment today and are being urged by ministers to reject it. They should instead give it their overwhelming support."


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