And what would that do to the coalition?
According to stories in the Independent and the Spectator, there are a number of Tory MPs (Bernard Jenkin and Daniel Kawczynski are suggested as ringleaders) who will vote against the Coalition government in today’s vote on the bill that provides for a referendum on AV next May.
Some are ideologically opposed to anything that threatens FPTP, some object to the impact of holding it on the same day as the Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish devolved elections, some maybe just want to register general disgruntlement at the coalition leadership.
No-one is clear how many Tory MPs will join the Labour party in voting against the Bill – Opposition front benchers claim that, although they support a referendum on AV (they were the only major party to promise exactly that in their manifesto) they object to some of the other measures, such as equalising constituency size, which they see as ‘gerrymandering’.
With a notional majority of around 80, plus any fervent pro-AV Labour rebels, the coalition should pass the bill successfully. Of course, if the bill failed, we would be in very interesting territory. The promise of a referendum (not a free vote on a referendum bill in Parliament) was in the Coalition Agreement.
If the bill failed, David Cameron would have to reintroduce it and pass it to keep up his end. Ironically, there are Lib Dems who were neither satisfied with an AV referendum (wanted STV, or at least AV+ on the ballot) or for whom electoral reform is not a priority, who would not be sorry to escape the distraction, with all the expense and potential embarrassment if lost, even if it doesn’t become a ‘referendum on the LibDems’.
It will be interesting to see which Labourites are ardent AV fans, which Tories are prepared to rebel, and which LibDems would rather not lend their support to a bill that keeps the coalition together. Keep watching – this is the first real test for Cameron and Clegg.
Mike Smithson, French general strikes permitting, should be back on Thursday