Britain voted yesterday, and the key issue was a referendum on “alternate voting,” a change from the first-past-the-post method of electing members of Parliament. The idea is that you would cast a first-choice vote and then a second-choice vote, with the latter being added to the former if no candidate gets an absolute majority. This would be a major change in Britain’s electoral system, one devoutly wished for by the Liberal Democrats, whose party has been finishing third and winning far fewer seats than either Conservatives or Labour. The Conservatives agreed to hold this referendum in the deal that established the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government after Conservatives fell just short of winning an absolute majority of seats in the House of Commons in the May 2010 election. But Conservatives did not agree to take no stand, and both the Conservative and Labour parties opposed the referendum.
It looks like they prevailed. The Daily Telegraph is live-blogging the AV referendum results and with 2% of the votes in AV is losing 65%-35%. Notably, some of those results are from Lib Dem constituencies (Orkney and the Shetland Islands, represented in the Commons by former Lib Dem party head Charles Kennedy). Also, the Lib Dems took a pasting in the local elections, for which the results are in. It looks like entry into the coalition government, which has made Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg Deputy Prime Minister and a serious policymaker, has cost the party much of its support.
The apparent defeat of AV is even more important for the Lib Dems. They hoped that if it passed they would win far more seats in the Commons and would be able often to choose which of the two parties would form a government—and that they would be part of it. Germany’s Free Democrats did this for years, and typically got the post of foreign minister in the process. It doesn’t look like the Lib Dems will enjoy this kind of powerbrokering in Britain.