I’ve left commenting on the result of the AV referendum so late because, to be honest, I haven’t had the heart to put pen to paper, or should I say fingers to keyboard.
As regular readers of this blog will know, electoral reform is a cause I have campaigned for over many years. It now looks to have been stopped for in its tracks for many more years to come. I take no joy in pointing out how appalling Nick Clegg’s judgment has been on this matter.
I wrote a post here in September 2009 which is a little prescient looking back now. Gordon Brown had just committed the Labour Party to AV and this became part of Labour’s subsequent manifesto. I argued then that the way to secure electoral reform would be for the Liberal Democrats to work with another party which had the same objective. Quite why Nick Clegg and others thought the Conservatives would not fight a hard campaign against AV is beyond me. There is a touching naivety in their complaints about lies and negative campaigning. Can these Lib-Dem politicians be the very ones who used to put flakey bar charts on their election leaflets inflating Liberal Democrat chances of winning, not to mention their penchant for dirty campaigns when necessary? I have experienced negative Liberal and Liberal Democrat campaigns for 30 years. Now they’re on the receiving end of criticism they seem quite unable to take it on board.
I remember saying in 2009 that almost every seat the Liberal Democrats won in 2005 from Labour had a substantial student population who voted for them as a result of the cocktail of Iraq and university tuition fees, which, of course, no longer exists. How true this proved. In the 2010 General Election Liberal Democrats gained two seats from Labour – Redcar and Burnley. Both of these gains were based on local issues and campaigns.
What is more, the shattering Scottish and Welsh results last week show that any Liberal Democrat in a seat with a large student population should immediately start looking for alternative career prospects. Now with first past the post re-established the only question surely is whether the Liberal Democrats lose a half, two-thirds or maybe even more of their current seats. Nick Clegg in the 12 months before the 2010 General Election fantasised that the Liberal Democrats would make considerable gains from Labour. In the end Labour gained one seat overall from the Liberal Democrats.
Nick Clegg’s strategic mistake was of monumental proportions. He could have seized an opportunity to work with Labour to secure AV. Labour made a manifesto commitment that would have seen Liberal Democrats at the next election hold perhaps 80 seats, now it is likely to be 20. That’s a massive blow to any party. I am unconcerned about Liberal Democrat prospects but I did want to secure a fairer voting system. So like many Liberal Democrat activists I am very disappointed at how badly Nick Clegg misjudged matters.