AV referendum could embarrass David Cameron
Cameron could lose either way, writes Richard Ehrman in his first new weekly column for The First Post
When David Cameron agreed to a referendum on the Alternative Vote, as part of the coalition agreement that put him into Downing Street, he does not seem to have thought it was any big deal. The assumption was that the No to AV campaign would score an easy victory, and Nick Clegg would be strong enough to take the hit without it causing more than a minor hiccup for the coalition.
Ten months on, with the polls showing the pro AV campaign ahead by around five per cent, and Ed Miliband now urging Labour MPs to vote Yes, that early complacency looks dangerously misplaced.
For Clegg, far from being a matter of little moment, the referendum could well be make or break. After a miserable year for his party, he can't afford to fail them on electoral reform. But at least if he wins, the Lib Dems can look forward to many more years of coalition with him at the helm, or so they will be hoping.
For Cameron the outcome is likely to spell trouble, win or lose. For now, he seems to be sticking to a strategy of keeping the No campaign deliberately low key, in the hope of emerging the winner without unnecessarily ruffling Lib Dem feathers. But the danger is that if the polls don't tilt his way soon, he will have to make a much clearer choice.
Will he alienate his coalition partners, on whom his position depends, by fighting to win? Or will he pull his punches, and risk damning himself in the eyes of his party on whom his position also depends?
The dilemma for the coalition is that one of its two leading figures will have to lose this referendum, but neither can now afford to. The dilemma facing David Cameron is that he may not be able to afford to win it, either. ·
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