Lib Dem members say: AV referendum result irrelevant to Coalition’s future

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Over 530 party members have responded, and we’re currently publishing the full results.

69% say AV referendum result irrelevant to Coalition’s future

LDV asked: Imagine the NO campaign wins the referendum; if this happened do you think the Liberal Democrats should leave the coalition?

    8% – The Liberal Democrats should leave the coalition if the NO campaign win
    22% – The Liberal Democrats should stay in the coalition if the NO campaign win
    69% – The Liberal Democrats should not make a decision to leave or stay in the Coalition based on the referendum result
    1% – Don’t know / No opinion

There seems to be very little appetite among Lib Dem members to trigger the Coalition’s downfall should the 5th May refendum on voting reform result in a No victory: just 8% (a lower proportion than those who are opposed to the Coalition overall) think the party should leave in such circumstances. More than one-fifth believe the party should definitely stay in the Coalition if No wins. The vast majority, more than two-thirds of members in our survey, believe the referendum result is irrelevant to the long-term future of the Coalition.

Here is a selection of your comments:

If we break the coalition because we don’t win, I think it will be very damaging to the party – I believe public opinion will view us on the basis that all we want is change to the voting system

Can’t leave a coalition just because you lose a vote.

The decision to join the coalition for a 5 year parliament has been made and it does not need to be re-opened. We would be fools to come out at this stage after suffering the pain and not yet having had the chance to reap the rewards.

The Tories and the No campaign have been playing dirty, telling outright lies. I would have serious doubts about the coalition if their behaviour killed AV.

The Coalition agreement was that there would be a referendum, and the Tories were free to campaign against. They have kept to their end of the bargain so there is no reason to leave

If we flounce out having lost the AV referrendum it will be us that betrayed the coalition agreement and we will look selfish, amateurish and unreliable.

We are trapped! I thought the NO campaign leaflet highlighting Lib Dem broken promises was despicable especially as it appears to have been sanctioned by Cameron. My instinctive reaction was that we should leave the coalition but if we did, and an election was called now, we would be wiped out!

We would be crazy and suicidal to leave the coalition because the British people didn’t give the answer we wanted in the referendum. We would look childish, petty and would deserve a hammering at the consequent election. I am proud of the things which Liberal Democrats are achieving in government – 99% of which have nothing to do with the referendum. I voted for the Lib Dems because I believed in our policies – we now owe it to our voters to give them as many Lib Dem policies as we can, given our number of MPs. That means NOT flouncing out of government in a huff.

Losing the referendum is consistent with the Coalition Agreement in a way that, for example, the NHS plans are not.

Our long-term aim should be to establish our credibility as a party that can be trusted on its own with the economy.

98% of Lib Dem members backing Yes to AV


LDV asked: Which of the following statements best represents your view of the UK adopting the ‘alternative vote’ system to replace the current ‘first past the post’ system for electing MPs to the House of Commons:

    47% – The alternative vote is a great improvement on first-past-the-post. I will enthusiastically support it in the referendum.
    51% – The alternative vote is a small improvement on first-past-the-post. I will back it but with no real enthusiasm.
    1% – The alternative vote is no improvement at all on first-past-the-post. I would vote only for a proportional electoral system to replace first-past-the-post.
    1% – I support first-past-the-post.
    1% – Don’t know / No opinion

An almost Stalinist 98% of Lib Dem members back AV, according to our survey. However, that overwhelming score masks a certain lukewarmness towards the alternative vote system (it’s not a proportional system, after all), with a slim majority saying it represents only a ‘small improvement’ on first-past-the-post. I should say, though, there were a number of cmments requesting a mix of options 1 and 2: that though AV represents only a small improvement, they will still back it enthusiastically. Fair point. The results are broadly similar to when we first asked this question last summer; though there seems to have been a small shift in favour of backing AV with enthusiasm.

Here is a selection of your comments:

It’s a step in the right direction that we need to support. PR is the goal.

AV is a tepid step in the right direction to PR. If this vote is lost it will set back the cause of proper reform a generation and call into question why we need to prop up this coalition any further.

In between one & two. AV is a small improvement, I will enthusiastically support it in the referendum as a step in the right direction.

Can we stop letting the enemy of the good be beaten by the bad (goes for the entire coalition!)

It’s a small improvement which I back enthusiastically because if we don’t win this there won’t be another opportunity for change for 20-30 years

I think it is a small improvement but it is a good first step so I enthusiastically support the referendum

Where is the “The alternative vote is a small improvement on FPTP. I will enthusiastically support it in the referendum” ?? That gets my vote!

I want PR but saying AV is a not much better than FPTP does not seem a winning argument. One step at a time – it is the best we could get.

  • Almost 1,300 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Over 530 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 18th and 24th April.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past accurately predicted the winners of the contest for Party President, and the result of the conference decision to approve the Coalition agreement.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
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    17 Comments

    • conservative 30th Apr '11 - 3:31pm

      so what about the same survey regarding local election results and Leicester South? Interesting to see if there is a larger number who have an opinion that these define how the Lib Dems should react to the coalition.

    • Andrew Suffield 30th Apr '11 - 3:58pm

      so what about the same survey regarding local election results and Leicester South?

      Well, I think it is safe to say that nobody believes the coalition should break up over Leicester South.

    • Philip Rolle 30th Apr '11 - 6:15pm

      A more interesting question would be “Should Nick Clegg continue to lead the Liberal Democrats?”

      Turkeys aren’t going to vote for Christmas.

    • Kevin Colwill 30th Apr '11 - 8:25pm

      I’m sure someone must have done a poll before the last election asking what would be the minimum a Lib Dem leader should secure before entering a collation. I’m guessing the minimum for most would have included a referendum on PR (remember PR?– was a bit of a priority back in the day).
      Of course the die is cast now. Lib Dems have to accept a kicking in Council elections and on AV and play a long game… but, be honest now, pre-election would anyone have accepted a referendum on AV as fair price for Lib Dem support?

    • Just because 69% don’t think the Lib Dems should leave the coalition if the referendum is lost doesn’t mean they think the result is ‘irrelevant to the coalition’s future’. Why can’t these polls be reported without attempts to spin them to support the party line?

    • AndrewR,

      You have yourself spun your poll report a little, probably inadvertently. The question didn’t simply ask whether “the Lib Dems should leave the coalition if the referendum is lost”. It also asked whether “the Liberal Democrats should stay in the coalition if the NO campaign win”.

      Remarkably, only 22% of respondents answered a clear yes to that question. 8% definitely thought the Lib Dems should leave the coalition, while 69% instead ticked the box which said “The Liberal Democrats should not make a decision to leave or stay in the Coalition based on the referendum result.” In other words, those 69% did not treat it as a given that the Lib Dems should necessarily stay in the Coalition, though they did not think the decision should depend on the AV referendum.

      The conclusion must be that 77% of respondents would, in appropriate circumstances, be prepared to pull out of the Coalition.

    • David Allen

      Mea culpa. You’re right. My characterization of the result is not quite accurate. However, I think we can agree on the major point which is that the results do not warrant the headline.

    • They clearly do not mean the same thing because someone could perfectly rationally assent to the first statement but dissent from the second.

      I think that leaving the coalition because a referendum did not go our way would be politically disastrous. It would look like the party were just opportunists ready to flounce off when a democratic decision went against them. So i can agree that the decision to continue the coalition should not be based solely on the result of the referendum. However that does not mean that I think the result is irrelevant to the coalition’s future. One lesson I might draw is that coalition with the Tories is not going to deliver the political reform I think is needed. I might be much readier in future to urge the end of the coalition than I would be if the result of the referendum went the way I wanted.

      So, the result of the referendum may not be sufficient cause to end the coalition but that just does not mean the result is ‘irrelevant’ to it’s future.

    • @ David Allen

      “The conclusion must be that 77% of respondents would, in appropriate circumstances, be prepared to pull out of the Coalition.”

      I think you’re right there, the “appropriate circumstances” being the Tories continuing to try to push their foul NHS agenda. If they don’t change tack on that, they should be voted down. That in itself might end the coalition.

    • I believe that the dynamics of the coalition have been severely undermined by Cameron’s decision to take an active role in the ‘NO’ vote plus the continued attacks on Clegg by the NO vote campaign. I do not believe that the NO vote winning will necessarily spark a withdrawal from the coalition, however it may be the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end.

    • Kevin Colwill 1st May '11 - 5:55pm

      I’m amazed at the lack of anger towards the Lib Dem leadership about this. How often under FPP are the Lib Dems going to hold the balance of power? There was an historic opportunity to at least secure a referendum on real PR.
      The negotiating team threw that away in favour of a vote on system very few people really want. Having got the wrong referendum on the wrong voting system they then went on to get the timing wrong. Having got the timing wrong they then produced a totally lacklustre campaign. – OK the yes campaign leadership is not the Lib Dem leadership but, come on, who’s got most invested in this? Who should be ensuring the yes campaign has some bite?
      Are you guys so chuffed to be “in government” that you’ll turn a blind eye to any shambolic mess your leadership make?… As a supporter of real fair votes I am not so forgiving.

    • Old Codger Chris 2nd May '11 - 10:23am

      @Kevin Colwill
      “I’m sure someone must have done a poll before the last election asking what would be the minimum a Lib Dem leader should secure before entering a collation. I’m guessing the minimum for most would have included a referendum on PR (remember PR?– was a bit of a priority back in the day)”.

      I’m certain you’re right Kevin. But if – as I strongly suspect – there was no way the Lib Dems would have got a referendum on PR it would have been wrong to refuse to enter a coalition for that reason. Putting party before country? How would that have played with voters?

      It’s sometimes argued that the Lib Dems should have supported a minority government on a confidence and supply basis – but having a governemnt which might fall at any time would have damaged international confidence in the nation’s ability to repay its debts.

      I can’t help wondering if – with PR not available – the Lib Dem leadership could have negotiated some valuable concession on policy in return for not insisting on a referendum to replace one hopeless voting system with another.

    • Kevin Colwill 2nd May '11 - 5:48pm

      @Old Codger Chris…The narrative of Lib Dem self sacrifice for the good of the nation is, I’m sure, very appealing to many Lib Dems. Not one the Tories seem to be buying into though. They’re all too happy to make political capital out of Nick Clegg’s unpopularity.
      If the economy stagnates the Lib Dems will get equal blame but if we get an upturn (maybe the sacked public sector workers can all go shelf stacking at Tescos) the Tories will claim the credit.
      Self sacrifice is very nobel. Pity about the loss of seats.

    • John Fraser 4th May '11 - 11:09pm

      Ofcourse a party should not leave a coalition because a referendum result goes against them. I do however think LDV is very much underplaying them fact that only 22% would not at least consider leaving the coalition for other reasons.

    • @Old Codger Chris: “But if – as I strongly suspect – there was no way the Lib Dems would have got a referendum on PR it would have been wrong to refuse to enter a coalition for that reason. ”

      It seems to me (as a non-Lib Dem supporter but campaigner for a Yes vote) that Clegg’s policy was “some sort of electoral reform, whatever the cost”. Hopefully now your membership will start to realise that the tradeoff was too poor. By alienating its core vote, LDs totally destroyed any hope of electoral reform for a generation. Much better to have stayed out of the coalition altogether.

      Sure, the No campaign’s “one man one vote” smear campaign was very well-executed. But their real joker in the pack was “No to Nick Clegg”. You need to get real and realise how badly you were played by the Tories and get rid of your toxic leadership. Put the right people in place and the coalition will fail organically over time rather than looking like you’re just throwing your toys out of the pram.

      Please, do it now before the Party is utterly destroyed. Fool you once, shame on Cameron. Fool you twice, shame on you.

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