Leading figures in Britain’s strained coalition government traded fresh verbal blows yesterday as the increasingly bitter fight over a referendum on changing the voting system entered its final stretch.
Campaigners fighting to keep the current first-past-the-post system in Thursday’s poll, meanwhile, received a boost, with a survey suggesting the public was set to overwhelmingly reject a move to the alternative vote (AV).
The referendum battle over changing from the current system, which awards victory to the candidate with the most votes, to AV, a system of preference votes, has exposed deep divisions between the two parties in government.
The Conservatives have urged voters to reject the change, while junior partners the Liberal Democrats are arguing in favor of AV — pitting British Prime Minister David Cameron, a Tory, against Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
Cameron ratcheted up his rhetoric yesterday, claiming that “generations of campaigners fought and died” to secure the current voting system, in an article for the right-wing Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
“Their struggle gave us the principle that sits at the heart of our democracy today: we are all equal, therefore we all have an equal say at the polls. One person, one vote,” he wrote.
Senior Lib Dem and British Energy Secretary Chris Huhne hit back with a call to voters to back AV and end the Conservative dominance of British politics, in a direct attack on his coalition partners.
“Britain consistently votes as a center-left country, and yet the Conservatives have dominated our politics for two-thirds of the time since 1900,” he wrote in an article in the Observer newspaper.
Elsewhere, a poll for the Mail on Sunday showed that 51 percent of people opposed the reform and just 33 percent of those quizzed backed it. Pollster BPIX interviewed 2,003 people online on Wednesday and Thursday last week.
While early campaigning was lackluster as the coalition partners pulled their punches, the final stretch has exploded into life.
The Conservatives agreed to hold the referendum as a concession to the Lib Dems when they formed a government in May last year. As the third biggest party in a two-party system, the Lib Dems believe a change to AV will help them.