By tomorrow, the AV referendum will be a thing of the past. However, the same cannot be said of the splits it has opened up in the coalition.
Today’s Times (£) quotes David Blunkett, the former Labour home secretary, admitting that the No campaign’s figure putting the cost of AV at £250m was “made up”. He said:
We are in the middle of an election campaign. People in elections use made-up figures. I have never used the £250m figure. It [AV] would undoubtedly cost more but I have used an extra £90m.
Given that the only cost of which we can be certain is the £82m spent on the referendum (as Full Fact reported in April), the figure is even more misleading than Blunkett claims.
This open admission that the figure is “made up” will put fuel on the fire of furious Liberal Democrats. Chris Huhne’s anger over the claim that costly electronic voting machines would be introduced even boiled over to cabinet this week, when he challenged David Cameron and George Osborne to disown the claims. And, lest we forget, he threatened legal action last month, saying:
It is frankly worrying if you have colleagues, [whom] you have respected and who you have worked well with, who are making claims which have no foundation in truth whatsoever. If they don’t come clean on this I am sure the law courts will.
The Electoral Commission said at the time that it was powerless to do anything, as electoral law covers false claims against candidates, but referendums have none. It will be interesting to see if Huhne finds another way to make good his threat. Either way, Blunkett’s comments will add insult to injury, confirming as it does the sense that the No campaign did not play fair. An admission from a senior politician that the campaign – and, by extension, the senior Tories running it – lied is potentially explosive to coalition relations.
Anger in Nick Clegg’s party at the way that the No camp directed its campaign will certainly be running high after last-minute polls suggested a resounding defeat for AV. A Guardian/ICM poll gives the No to AV campaign a 36 per cent lead, while a Sun/YouGov survey gives it a 20-point margin.
The Lib Dems are also expected to take a hammering in the local elections happening at the same time.
At the moment, it looks unlikely that anyone within the party will challenge Clegg’s leadership after today’s drumming – but the door is wide open if anyone should decide to.