Coalition leaders prepare for 'no' referendum win

Are Nick Clegg and David Cameron expecting a 'no' win? Photo: Getty Images
Are Nick Clegg and David Cameron expecting a 'no' win? Photo: Getty Images

By Alex Stevenson

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have laid the groundwork for a 'no' campaign win in the upcoming electoral reform referendum.

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders face a tough challenge to hold the coalition together if the Lib Dems do not succeed in winning the alternative vote poll, which will take place on May 5th.

A ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday newspaper put the 'no' campaign six points ahead.

In separate television interviews today, both Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg appeared to be paving the way for how to remain in power after a potential 'no' win.

"Whatever the result on May 5th, this is a five-year government," the prime minister told Sky News.

"Nick and I are absolutely committed to taking the government and its programme forward."

"Whoever is on the losing side as it were will just have to pick themselves up and say: well, it was a fair argument, a fair fight, a fair referendum, the country has decided and now we have got to get on with all the things that really matter so much."

While in public Mr Cameron has fought a tough campaign in support of the 'no' vote, he is reportedly extremely concerned at the criticism faced by his deputy.

"Nick has really been going through it," the Sunday Telegraph quoted a source close to the prime minister as saying.

Mr Clegg himself was in characteristically dismissive mood earlier today, telling BBC1's The Politics Show programme that he had frequently faced "predictions of Armageddon".

"Every single time we as a party confound people," he said.

"We are much more resilient than people have given us credit for and I suspect we will be much more resilient in the future as well."

PR for peers?

Plans to establish a House of Lords elected under proportional representation could be introduced to help Mr Clegg, however.

The proposal to appoint 80% of a reformed upper House of Parliament is being considered by No 10 in the event of a 'no' result in the upcoming referendum on electoral reform, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

Electoral reform is viewed as a key policy goal for Liberal Democrat grassroots activists, who many Conservative ministers fear could force the premature collapse of the coalition if they do not succeed in making major policy gains.

Creating a House of Lords appointing by PR would be likely to be such a victory, but could prompt a backlash from some Tory backbenchers.

No 10 is likely to back the move in a bid to prop up the struggling deputy prime minister, however.

The coalition had pledged to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper House by December 2010, but has still not done so. Negotiations are ongoing.


Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.