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A No vote in the AV referendum would be greeted as a triumph for David Cameron

by Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2011-03-07 at 21.59.46 I've written recently about the dire consequences of a No vote for David Cameron - see here and here - who in such an eventuality will be blamed for conceding a referendum that was then lost, for leaving John Major as the last Conservative Prime Minister of a Conservative Government (a hysterical claim, as I keep suggesting), for endangering the seats of his colleagues, and for not winning last May's election in the first place.

So it's only fair to look at the other side of the coin.

If the referendum produces a reasonably emphatic No vote - anything roughly north of 53 per cent or so - the dominant narrative will be rather different.  The Liberal Democrats, it will be written, have been set up as the coalition's fall guys - with Nick Clegg, the debating hero of the election, re-cast as a national villian in the wake of his tuition fees about-turn.  At the next election, he and his party will be massacred, leaving Cameron with a perfectly good chance of winning a majority.

The Prime Minister will thus be presented as a great Conservative tactician - perhaps as the most adroit since Disraeli.  However, I'd advise against anyone getting carried away (which Cameron himself is unlikely to do): the difficulties of trying to reduce the deficit - and reform the public services at the same time - would soon reassert themselves in such an event.  And there'd be new pressure to make concessions to Clegg to help prop up the latter's position.

The stakes for the Party leader are usually predicated on winning or losing a general election - not on a referendum that could change the voting system itself.  There are signs that Downing Street's now focused on what's at stake: both Cameron and Sayeeda Warsi put the case against AV centre-stage in Cardiff, and this intriguing post from George Pascoe-Watson reports how seriously Number 10 is now taking the event.  As I write, the consensus of the polls puts the Yes campaign ahead.

> On Comment today: Are Yes to AV about to start attacking David Cameron?


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