UK opts to keep old voting system
Tory party delighted as first-past-post is retained
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg in London after his party's comprehensive defeat yesterday. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Plans to change the way British MPs are elected have been overwhelmingly rejected by voters.
More than two-thirds of people voted to keep the first-past-the-post system in what was the first UK-wide referendum for 36 years.
With the count 85pc complete, the No to AV campaign passed the crucial figure of 9.87 million votes at 7.41pm last night to secure victory.
It was a boost to Conservative Party leader David Cameron, who had campaigned hard for a No vote, and a blow to Nick Clegg, who had made a referendum on voting reform a condition of the coalition deal which is this week one year old.
The British Prime Minister and his deputy had sharply contrasting fortunes on 'Super Thursday' as voters went to the polls in council elections, and in assembly and parliament elections in Wales and Scotland. It was the first major test of opinion since the general election.
The Liberal Democrats were severely punished. They lost almost half their councillors in town halls across the country, while the Conservatives exceeded expectations. But in an attempt to soften the blow for Mr Clegg, the Tories made a point of not trumpeting notable successes achieved in councils across the south at the expense of the Lib Dems.
Mr Cameron also ordered his party to not celebrate last night's AV victory too vocally, fearing it would further antagonise his Lib Dem partners after weeks of bitter coalition in-fighting.
Astonishingly, at one point yesterday evening, before all the council votes had been declared, the Tories were actually ahead of Labour on share of the vote.
A projection put them on 38pc, down two on four years ago, Labour on 37pc, up 11, and the Lib Dems on 17pc, down seven on 2007 results. The party also claimed to have won at least half of all council seats up for election.
The party also looked on course to increase its number of councillors. Labour did far worse than many in the party had expected. Ed Miliband did see his party win in Wales, but Labour was humiliated in Scotland and just managed to break through the 800 gains barrier in council elections that was deemed the benchmark for even modest success.
The Conservatives said Mr Miliband's first test as party leader produced a worse result than Michael Foot achieved in 1981. The Labour leader was also personally associated with the abject failure of the Yes to AV campaign.
However, Sadiq Khan, a close ally of the Labour leader and a fellow supporter of Yes to AV, blamed Nick Clegg for the debacle.
He said: "Because of your hunger for power, not principle, I'm afraid the chick's come home to roost. For a generation now we've lost the chance for electoral reform."
Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, admitted: "It is disappointing that people have chosen to vote the way they have, but it is important to accept the people's verdict and say that's that."
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, concealing what was private Tory delight at the result, said the vigorous AV campaign would not affect the way the coalition operated.
He added: "People voted to stick with the electoral system they know. It is tried and trusted and they know how to use it."
Mr Cameron will now allow Mr Clegg time to engage with his party and try and regain some composure after a bruising few weeks. But the prime minister last night came under pressure to resist holding out further policy concessions to the Lib Dems to help shore up Mr Clegg.
Mark Field, a backbench MP, said: "Clearly there will be an effort to try to shore up Nick Clegg's position but I think the idea that there will be a whole lot of policy concessions allowing the Liberals to look good in the months to come is way short of the mark." (© Daily Telegraph, London)