Charlie Falconer has succeeded in tying the coalition in knots. Again.
Last night's government defeat in the Lords, inserting a "threshold clause" into the bill for a referendum on the voting system would effectively wreck the bill as far as the Lib Dems are concerned. The requirement that 40 per cent of the electorate should turn out, before a vote to change the electoral system could be valid, looks unattainable.
There's solid polling data on this. A big ICM poll by the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign found that 49 per cent of respondents in areas due to hold elections in May were certain to vote. But only 36 per cent were certain to vote in the referendum – which the government wants to hold alongside those elections. If that was born out by events, the attempt to change the voting system would flounder then and there. Students of history will recall that a failure to meet a threshold was precisely what defeated the Callaghan government's proposals for Scottish devolution in March 1979 – and ultimately led to the fall of that government.
So if this vital part of the coalition agreement is to be implemented, the threshold has to be removed from the bill. I gather that it is at least technically possible to attempt this at the next stage of consideration – third reading. But it is more likely that the government will simply ask the House of Commons to remove it when it comes to consider the amendments made by their lordships, probably on Monday.
Tuesday, 8 February 2011
ONE LAST HURDLE?
The wrangling in Westminster over the government's bill for the referendum on the alternative vote is coming to the crunch over the next few days. Mark D'Arcy of the BBC has this on his excellent blog: