British voters have rejected changing the electoral system in a humiliation for the Lib Dem party - who are in a Tory-led coalition government – who championed the reform. The party was also thumped in the local elections held on the same day.
REUTERS - British voters punished the Liberal Democrats for their role in a deficit-cutting government on Friday, rejecting the party’s efforts to reform the electoral system and deserting it in local elections.
The outcome points to a rockier future for Britain’s Conservative-led coalition government, with analysts predicting a more combative stance from the partnership’s Lib Dem junior partners.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed reform to Britain’s voting system in an embarrasing blow to the Lib Dems and their leader Nick Clegg who had championed the change.
Counting in the referendum was still under way but “no” votes had already passed more than half of total votes cast. Defenders of the current system led reformers by around a two-to-one margin.
The Scottish National Party scored a bumper haul, winning an outright majority in Scotland’s assembly which has limited powers devolved from London and opening the door for a referendum on secession from the rest of Britain.
A fully independent Scotland could change the handling of profits from North Sea oil fields, a crucial tax income for cash-strapped Britain, and may also have implications for the state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland.
Prime Minister David Cameron, whose Conservative party saw its vote hold up in regional elections across the country, said he believed Britain’s coalition administration would survive until 2015 and complete its austerity programme.
“I am absolutely committed to make this coalition government that I believe is good for Britain, work for the full five years of this term,” he said.
The main opposition Labour Party, which has overtaken the Conservatives in opinion polls, had a mixed night. While support in local council elections in England was positive, the party took a beating in Scotland, normally a heartland of its support.
But the big losers were the Lib Dems who have fallen sharply out of favour with voters because of an array of policy reversals since the party formed the coalition in May 2010. They suffered heavy losses across the country.
“We have taken a real knock last night and we will need to learn the lessons from what we heard on the doorstep,” a tired-looking Clegg, the deputy prime minister, told reporters.
“In those parts of the country .... where there are real anxieties about the deficit-reduction plans that we are having to put in place, we are clearly getting the brunt of the blame.”
The government has embarked on a four-year programme of swingeing spending cuts to rein in a record budget deficit.
FEARS OF SPLIT OVERDONE
The Lib Dems’ poor showing has prompted a few commentators to ask if the coalition could split and derail the austerity programme. But financial market investors do not appear to share the same fears.
“Do they (the election results) jeopardise the coalition? Absolutely not, because the junior coalition partner has nowhwere to go,” said Andrew Roberts, head of European rates strategy at RBS.
“It’s marginal but bond-positive because we haven’t got a break-up of the coalition.”
The Lib Dems’ popularity has plummeted since they entered government with the centre-right Conservatives last year and created Britain’s first coalition since World War Two.
A key concession won by the Lib Dems for entering the partnership was a referendum on Thursday on whether to change Britain’s voting system to give more clout to smaller parties.
The referendum loss and poor local vote results may spur challenges to Clegg, but no contenders have emerged. In contrast to ostentatious displays of goodwill and compromise between the Conservatives and Lib Dems in the past year, analysts expect the Lib Dems now to try to better defend their policies to claw back popular support.
“Lib Dems will expect their coalition representatives .... to be seen to be defending very publicly Lib Dem principles and winning battles. That is something the Lib Dems will have to do more of to show that they are actually making a difference in the coalition,” said Nottingham University’s Steven Fielding.
Date created : 2011-05-06