Voters in Norfolk reject AV
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg is bracing himself for a revolt against his leadership of the Liberal Democrats, and for growing pressure to pull out of the coalition government with the Tories, after his party suffered a massive double whammy in the electoral reform referendum and the council and devolved parliament elections.
A big vote for the retention of the First Past The Post Voting System ended a day of misery for the Lib Dems in which they lost about 700 council seats and did badly in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections. With just a handful of the 440 voting areas still to declare, the Noes (to change) were beating the Yeses by 12.1m votes to 5.5m - a margin of 68pc to 31pc - on a 42pc turnout. Every council district in Norfolk delivered a No vote.
The elections also produced a major upheaval in Scotland where Alex Salmond's SNP had an unexpected landslide victory and will be able to form a single-party government and prepare for a referendum on independence.
Mr Clegg's principal parliamentary aide Norman Lamb was in the front-line trenches of his party's suffering after it lost control of his local council, North Norfolk, to the Tories, its senior partner in government at Westminster.
The North Norfolk MP blamed that change on Lib Dem voters switching their support to Labour candidates, and said that his party would 'bounce back' from its defeats. He also stressed that 'it doesn't make sense to change leader when you have some bad results'.
There was no immediate sign of a leadership challenge to Mr Clegg, who acknowledged that his party had suffered a 'real knock'. But energy secretary Chris Huhne seemed to choose his words carefully in saying 'now is not the time to change leader'. Further comments over the weekend from him and from business secretary Vince Cable will be awaited with some foreboding in Mr Clegg's inner-circle. Last night, Mr Cable joined in stressing that his party would not be deflected from the task of tackling the fiscal deficit in the government.
The Conservatives, by contrast, had much to celebrate. In addition to the resounding No vote in the referendum, they also astounded everyone - including themselves - by making net gains of seats in the English council elections. They had been widely expected to lose up to 1000 seats.
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Mindful of the Lib Dem pain, however, and fearing that it could undermine the government, the prime minister issued a 'no gloating' decree to his own party. He also said that the coalition 'is as good today as it was a year ago'. Its two parties would carry on working together to sort out the long-term problems the country faced, he said.
Mr Lamb also stated yesterday that the Liberal Democrats should now highlight more effectively the difference they are making by being part of the government, and Mr Clegg is expected to take up that theme to raise morale in his party's ranks and shore up his own position.
Voters locally gave a resounding no to any change of the voting system. Thursday's local elections also saw voters given the chance to replace the current first past the post system in favour of the alternative vote (AV).
But the totals so far show that the majority of people, up to 75pc in some districts were set to say no, in lien with national forecasts.
Only in Norwich was the result relatively close with 55pc of voters saying no, compared to 45pc in favour.
No - 29,920 (75 pc)
Yes - 9793 (25 pc)
No - 32,607 (73pc)
Yes 12,073 (27pc)
No 19,207 (75pc)
Yes 6,325 (25pc)
No - 28,555 (71pc)
Yes - 11,799 (29pc)
21, 852 (55pc)
No - 32,400 (71pc)
Yes - 13,332 (29pc)