Political Notebook by George Pascoe-Watson
David Cameron and Nick Clegg have become “temporarily undocked” as the PM wakes up to the very real danger of losing the referendum on AV. Mr Cameron is a worried man, I’m very reliably informed.
The PM has ordered an emergency push to deliver a “no” in the AV referendum at all costs. Otherwise, general elections for years to come will be Conservative Party disasters.
Three senior party figures held a crisis showdown last week at Conservative HQ. Elections guru Stephen Gilbert, party co-chairman Andrew Feldman and regional campaign director Darren Mott put the fear of God into staffers. They painted a stark and grim picture of the likelihood of the AV campaign winning on May 5.
“Everything pales into insignificance compared to this AV problem”, the gathering was told.
Recent polls have shown an increase in support for the “no” campaign. But senior Tories are deeply worried that huge numbers of “no” voters won’t actually take part in the referendum and they won’t count. That’s because the referendum is on the same day as regional and local elections which don’t affect large swathes of the country, especially the big urban areas like London. The emergency meeting held by three such important figures in the party’s election machine demonstrates the gravity of concern being expressed internally.
Key figures like George Eustice, a former Portland consultant and Tory MP, have been raising the alarm for many weeks. The PM is now committing more party resources to deal with the crisis. Staff will be diverted to the AV referendum from policy jobs. The word has gone out from Mr Cameron – “we cannot afford to lose”.
Party chairwoman Sayeeda Warsi is under orders to campaign tirelessly and publicly to get the “no” vote out. And the Premier himself will become visible and vocal. One well-placed source tells me: “The PM has made it clear; there is no question of backing down on this.”
The Tories would lose 40 MPs at a stroke under the AV system. Labour would kiss goodbye to 15 sitting MPs. Mr Clegg’s LibDems would become powerful kingmakers and almost certainly choose a coalition with Ed Miliband and Labour.
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