Supporters and opponents alike have acknowledged that the alternative vote would never be introduced for Westminster elections after the proposal received a thumping defeat in the national referendum. With 439 of the 440 voting areas counted, the no campaign had established a lead of 68% to 32%, another wounding blow to Nick Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats had secured a referendum as one of their cherished prizes in negotiations with the Conservatives to form the coalition last year.
Matthew Elliott, campaign director of No to AV, said: “Tonight’s result is an emphatic victory, a clear signal from every part of the country that people want to keep our simple, fair and effective system for electing MPs. I believe this result settles the debate over changing our electoral system for another generation.”
Chris Huhne, the Lib Dem energy secretary and prominent campaigner for a yes vote, accepted that there would be no further attempt to introduce voting reform during this parliament and that it was “over” for AV. But he suggested that another question on electoral reform might one day be put to the electorate.
“I think it is very clear that the people have spoken, that the alternative vote is not a runner and we must respect that decision.” But voters had not expressed an opinion on proportional representation, he said. “The question on the ballot paper was ‘Do you support AV?’ and we must respect that.”
The former Labour cabinet minister Lord Reid, a no campaigner, said the public had delivered a resounding rejection of AV and warned the Liberal Democrats not to look for any “backdoor” introduction of voting reform. “Anyone who now wants to find some sort of backdoor method to bring something in that is not first past the post will be seen to have snubbed the clear wishes of the electorate,” he said.
“The British constitution is not some bauble to be handed out as a consolation prize. It would be an outrage if such a resounding vote was to be ignored by the Liberal Democrats.”