Andy McSmith: First came the excuses, then the news the Yes camp feared

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Indy Politics

In the end, people listened to the politicians rather than showbiz stars, the small number of supporters of the Yes campaign who turned out for the final count admitted yesterday.

Officials who worked full-time for Yes2AV say their private polling showed victory was in their sights until the campaign turned political.

"Did the Yes campaign do something to lose the campaign?" one asked. "No, I don't think it did. What we did was force David Cameron to break his word and come out campaigning hard for a No vote.

"Our polling showed that when Cameron came out, the No vote went up but when Nick Clegg came out the Yes vote went down. We didn't have a big-name political leader."

Another Yes2AV worker admitted ruefully: "We got the stars out, but the public listened to politicians with a personal interest in the outcome." The count at London's ExCeL centre was surprisingly downbeat given that this was the first national referendum in 36 years. None of the stars turned out. Even the ubiquitous Eddie Izzard was back in France.

Two Liberal Democrat ministers – Danny Alexander and Chris Huhne – put in an appearance for the Yes campaign. The biggest beast fielded by the No campaign was former Labour home secretary John Reid, who quit frontline politics in 2007.

There was almost nothing for the Yes camp to celebrate, but a little group in one corner managed a subdued cheer as the 124th result went up. It was Lambeth, south London, the first UK district to vote Yes.

Where does this leave the Liberal Democrats, for whom electoral reform has been almost their main reason for existing? Danny Alexander admitted the issue is now off the agenda until at least the next general election.

But it means too much for the party to abandon it. What the party really supports is not AV, but proportional representation. Some of those in the hall argue the public has not rejected PR as they were not asked about it. PR is "still on the table." How and when the shattered Liberal Democrats will find the muscle to get it on to a ballot paper is not obvious.

Ed Miliband also has a problem. Liberal Democrats blame him for failing to get Labour supporters to vote Yes. More seriously, Labour Nos blame him for being on the losing side. "This is a problem that isn't going to come up immediately but it is there and it will take a long time to go away," a Labour No campaigner said.

To hear mutterings from Tories in the hall, things do not bode well for Nick Clegg in future negotiations between the two parties. "Clegg has been defeated and Cameron is riding high. Why should Cameron concede anything to him?" one Tory MP said.

"But that's off the record," he added, with a nervous glance at Chris Huhne nearby. On the face of it, the coalition lives on.