I make my case against AV in today's Sunday Telegraph. The battle to keep first-past-the-post is certainly going to be tough. A ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday gave a 36% to 30% lead for AV but that leaves many undecideds. The ComRes numbers contrast with YouGov which, earlier this week, gave FPTP a 9% advantage.
The Tory leadership is solidly behind keeping the present voting system with Michael Gove the only waverer. He confirmed to me yesterday that he is undecided.
The Coalition's main concern at the moment, however, is to ensure that The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill clears its House of Lords stages by 16th February so that the referendum on replacing FPTP with AV can take place on 5th May. Labour MPs have been filibustering the Bill – largely because they object to the reduction in the number of MPs and the way it will favour the Conservatives.
There is some talk of decoupling the AV and boundary review parts of the Bill so that the referendum can get the go ahead and the more contentious redrawing of constituencies will be processed later. Such a decoupling would anger Tory backbenchers, however. The boundaries review is the manifesto sweetener that helps them digest the possibility of losing First Past The Post.
The already difficult push to pass the PVSCB looks to be made more difficult by support from some Tory peers for the idea that the voting system should only change if turnout reaches 40%. Melissa Kite reports that some of the party's biggest beasts in the Lords – Lords Lawson, Lamont, Forsyth, Tebbit and Deben (John Gummer) – are ready to back opposition amendments that will insist on a minimum turnout. Lord Forsyth (back from his successful fundraising mountain climb) told Ms Kite:
“I start from the position that we should not have a referendum to change the voting system at all, but I understand this is part of a deal that has been done by the Coalition. But at the very least we ought to have a threshold so that those who want to change the system have a proper campaign and voters are enabled to reach a clear view."