VOTERS have overwhelmingly rejected the alternative vote system for Westminster elections, final opinion polls last night suggested.
With the Labour Party divided over electoral reform, there were already signs that Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg is being lined up as the scapegoat for the failure of the Yes to AV campaign.
In the Commons, Labour MPs mocked the Lib Dem leader, suggesting the Yes campaign had suffered from a “dead Clegg bounce” as a result of his unpopularity.
Conservative ministers are preparing to rebuild bridges with Lib Dem colleagues after a bruising referendum campaign which has threatened to strain tensions within the coalition to breaking point.
Leader of the Commons Sir George Young acknowledged that there are “tensions” between the coalition partners, but insisted they are nothing like as bad as those which racked Labour during the Blair-Brown years.
Voting in Stannington in his Hallam constituency just after 9am yesterday, Mr Clegg said: “Obviously I hope, on an important day like this, that lots of people will take the opportunity to get stuck in and join in on the referendum on our voting system to make our politics a bit better and a bit fairer.”
Labour Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield, who has backed the Yes to AV campaign, said only the Tories would be celebrating if the referendum delivers a no verdict today.
He said: “The Conservatives have thrown all their weight behind the campaign to defeat AV, with all the money that they have been able to put into it and the support that they have had from the tabloid press.
“Against that background it has been a difficult campaign to fight. It will be only the Conservatives who have anything to celebrate if it is lost.”
But he warned people not to read too much into opinion polls that have predicted a heavy defeat for AV.
“The result has not yet been announced. The opinion polls could be misleading because there will be big regional variation.
“I wouldn’t write it off. The London turnout will be very important. There are no local elections there so millions of voters will only be turning out for AV, which could help the Yes campaign.”
The Sheffield AV referendum result was set to be announced at the English Institute of Sport following the count this afternoon.