Nick Clegg's decision to call a referendum on the voting system on the same day as local elections backfired disastrously, the Liberal Democrat inquest into the party's crushing double defeat has concluded.
A report to the party's annual conference in Birmingham later this month says the council elections turned into a "perfect storm" because the referendum on the alternative vote (AV) also took place on May 5. Although David Cameron wanted to delay the AV vote until this autumn, Mr Clegg insisted it was held in May in the hope that elections to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and English councils would boost the turnout and prospects of a Yes vote. In the event, AV was rejected by 68 to 32 per cent and the Liberal Democrats lost 700 town hall seats.
With hindsight, the report concludes, the double poll meant that Liberal Democrat activists in areas holding elections were unable to give enough time to the "Yes to AV" effort. It also prevented the Liberal Democrats seconding staff to the referendum campaign, took media airtime away from the elections and allowed Labour supporters to "kick the party twice."
The report says: "Turnout among Conservative and socially-conservative Labour voters was at general election levels, driven out in consequence of the AV referendum. A huge trade union campaign in Labour-leaning areas targeted the party leader [Mr Clegg] personally and viciously."
A simultaneous AV referendum also meant that Mr Clegg's party got little or no credit from Tory supporters. "Conservative voters satisfied with the Coalition were reluctant to vote tactically for their coalition partners in Lib Dem/Labour marginals, in no small part because of the vociferous rivalry between the two parties in the national referendum," the report says.Reuse content