|David Cameron, left, and Nick Clegg campaigned on opposite sides of the referendum [AFP]|
Voters in the United Kingdom have overwhelmingly rejected a proposed reform to the voting system in an embarrassing blow to the country’s Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems).
Results released on Saturday showed nearly 68 per cent of voters had spurned the new system championed by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems.
British voters casted their votes two days earlier for an array of polls including a referendum on election voting reform, local council elections and elections to the Scottish parliament and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies.
But the results indicated a stinging defeat for the Lib Dems in an apparent punishment for their role in a deficit-cutting coalition government.
The campaign for Thursday’s referendum on voting reform strained the year-old ruling coalition, prompting angry exchanges between Lib Dems, who backed change, and Conservative defenders of the current system.
Lib Dems have fallen sharply out of favour with voters because of an array of policy reversals since the party formed the coalition in May 2010.
They suffered heavy losses across the country. Leader Clegg said the rejection of voting reform was a serious setback for advocates of reform.
“This is a bitter blow for all those people like me who believe in the need for political reform, but the answer is
clear and the wider job of the government and the Liberal Democrats in government will continue: to repair the economy; to restore a sense of prosperity and jobs and optimism to the country and that’s the job we’ve started and we will continue,” Clegg said.
The referendum loss and poor local vote results may spur challenges to Clegg, but no contenders have emerged.
However, the outcome points to a rockier future for the government, with analysts predicting a more combative stance from the Lib Dems.
‘Clear and resounding answer’
David Cameron, the prime minister, whose Conservative party saw its vote hold up in regional elections across the country, said he believed the coalition administration would survive until 2015 and complete its austerity programme.
“It was always going to be a difficult moment for a coalition when you have two parties in a coalition
campaigning on different sides in referendum, but we’ve had that debate and in the end the British public are the boss and they have given a clear and resounding answer that settles the question, so now Conservatives and Liberal Democrats must come together in this government and provide strong, decisive long term government,” Cameron said.
Meanwhile, in the Scottish parliamentary elections, the Scottish National Party scored a bumper haul, winning an outright majority in Scotland’s assembly – which has limited powers devolved from London – and opening the door for a referendum on secession from the rest of Britain.
A fully independent Scotland could change the handling of profits from North Sea oil fields, a crucial tax income
for cash-strapped Britain, and may also have implications for the state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland.