The news that the planned referendum on the Alternative Vote may be delayed raises the question: which side would benefit? The Lib Dems originally pushed for an early referendum (5 May) in the hope that the vote would take place before the coalition’s cuts destroyed their popularity. But, as the party’s recent poll ratings show, that assumption no longer applies.
Although it is largely the No camp that has pushed for a date change, to my mind, it’s the Yes camp that has most to gain. The biggest risk for the pro-AV side is that the vote turns into a referendum on Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems. A delayed vote, after the Lib Dems have already been dealt a bloody nose in the local elections, would lower the possibility of this.
The opportunity for a prominent debate on electoral reform (rather than one overshadowed by the royal wedding) should also benefit the Yes camp. The arguments against first-past-the-post are persuasive but require far more exposure than at present.
In addition, a delayed vote would allow Labour supporters of AV to campaign in the referendum without being accused of diverting time and energy away from the party’s local elections campaign.
Most opinion polls already put the Yes camp in front; a change in the referendum date could extend their advantage.