So the news is out (we think) that the referendum on changing the electoral system will be held on 5th May 2011; a little bit surprised that yet again a major issue has been put to the press before parliament.
Anyway, I'm not totally against a referendum but I also think that the voting system will never catch the enthusiasm of people in the way its supporters believe it will.
The Press will now spend a lot of time looking at the views of Tory MPs and the impact it will have on the coalition - for example, if AV loses will Nick and the LibDems pack up their toys and go home? Or, should Labour campaign against AV just to irritate the coalition?
If I were a Tory MP now there would certainly be 2 things that I would look at -
Firstly the date. I am not in favour of combining this with the local elections (and devolved authority elections) because of the potential for confusion and the in-built bias that the will exist in areas that are having elections. The Electoral Commission said it should be held on a totally different day and I agree - this is a major change and people ought to be clear what they are voting for. The worst thing would be for AV to win narrowly and then have voters claiming they were confused which undermines the result.
And secondly is the issue of a threshold; which comes into sharper focus when you consider how low the turnout might be (electoral reform ain't that sexy). Can you really justify this change on 50.01% of a, say, 30% turnout? I'm happy to discuss what the threshold ought to be, but there should be a clear measure of support for people before the change is made.
I hope some MPs take these ideas forward and the House of Commons gets a chance to vote on them - this isn't some LibDem obsession, nor a bargaining chip for the coalition, but the fundamentals of our democracy. This is important and should be taken seriously.