Electoral reform is a “deal-breaker” for 80 per cent of Lib Dems

Poll shows party members are in favour of discussions with the Tories -- but reform remains paramoun

With talks between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives well into their third day, Nick Clegg has told the BBC that he has "almost, almost" made a decision.

If a pact is reached, each party leader will have to present it to his backbenchers and gain the support of his party.

It is widely accepted that the Lib Dems have more in common with Labour. Indeed, for those who voted Lib Dem after becoming disillusioned with Labour, the idea of the party working with the Conservatives is anathema.

But, Nick Clegg will be heartened to see, a poll of about 350 party members for Liberal Democrat Voice implies that the majority of members are not in principle opposed to the idea of the two parties working together.

The poll showed that 89 per cent support Clegg's decision to let the party with the most votes and most seats try to form a government, while 90 per cent support his decision to enter into discussions with the Conservative Party on that basis.

While this is positive for the Lib Dem top command, the key result of the poll is that 80 per cent say that significant progress on electoral reform is a deal-breaker.

Proportional representation has long been a cornerstone of Liberal Democrat policy, but it is entirely possible that this is wavering. Before the election, senior Lib Dems reportedly indicated to top Tories that the issue might not, in fact, be a deal-breaker, while Clegg said that he would be entering into discussions with "no "preconditions".

The Lib Dem negotiating team rejected the Conservatives' initial offer of a commission to look into electoral reform and, at the weekend, Clegg told protesters that "reforming politics is one of the reasons I went into politics". However, it remains to be seen how far he will pursue this goal, and whether it will be sufficient "progress" to keep party members on board.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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