David Blackburn

Cameron and Clegg, head to head

Cameron and Clegg, head to head
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Now here’s a shock: something to trump the relentless tedium of the Cricket World Cup. The AV referendum. Labour MP Jim Murphy held his constituency surgery in a large supermarket today and it was well attended, but no one asked about the referendum. Murphy ruefully tweeted: ‘the public are so out of touch with today’s politicians.’

But it is odd, or at least it should be, that the nation’s second ever plebiscite has inspired only indifference; then again, electoral reform is not a subject to quicken the pulse. Even the campaigners are resigned to expect scant enthusiasm for their cause. The campaign is days old and already its emphasis has shifted from principle to personality. Royal couple of the moment, Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter, are the faces of the Yes campaign – a task for which they are singularly unqualified. Meanwhile, the No campaign has decided that its best hope is to chastise Nick Clegg. In a glorious last stand for the Old Politics, it has offered the extraordinary soundbite: ‘Don’t like Nick Clegg? Vote No2AV.’

Doubtless more celebrity endorsements are in the offing. I wonder what arch sentiments Gary Barlow entertains about ‘one man one vote’. For instance, does he want it back for good? Perhaps my curiosity will soon be satisfied.   

Politicians have resorted to similar ruses to avoid a detailed debate, albeit one that few people want. Cameron and Clegg have been on the road this morning, personalising the vote whilst trying to downplay their importance. Tim Montgomerie anticipated their conceit and has given Cameron a stark warning in his Times column (£) today. ‘Defeat AV, Mr Cameron, or look a serial loser’.

That’s no exaggeration. This referendum is hugely important – not just in the context of the electoral system (covered here by a Newsnight special edition), but in the wider political landscape too. The futures of Clegg and, to a lesser extent, Cameron ride on it – and both are in hot enough water as it is. So why is it all so soporific?

PS: I'm certain that Murphy's tweet was written with a wry twinkle in the eye.