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Politics

David Cameron and Nick Clegg launch their AV Referendum campaigns

The AV Referendum will take place on May 5, the same day as the Assembly elections

After much wrangling in Westminster – we now know that in Wales we will be asked to tick not one, but two boxes on May 5. The referendum on changing the voting system for parliament will be taking place on the same day as the election for the National Assembly.

Getting that vote was something the Liberal Democrats refused to budge on during the negotiations last May that eventually saw them enter into a coalition government with the Conservatives. And today Nick Clegg launched his call for the alternative vote to replace the first past the post system of electing MPs.

No doubt he’ll be campaigning hard for this referendum could decide the fate of the Lib Dems in the coalition. Lose it, and they lose face on one of their long held policy commitments.

After dropping their pledge to scrap university fees and backing an increase in student contributions, Mr Clegg needs AV to prove to his party that there’s something in this coalition for them.

Unlike next month’s referendum on further powers for the Welsh Assembly, political leaders in Westminster will be at the forefront of the Yes and No campaigns. Observers will be watching out for friction between the coalition partners, with David Cameron leading calls to keep the status quo.

But however lively the campaign gets, its impact is likely to be dulled in Wales.

Plaid Cymru say they won’t be campaigning at all. The Single Transferable Vote is their electoral system of choice – and they’d rather focus on the Assembly election.

The First Minister and leader of Welsh Labour has already indicated his support for AV , but made it clear that it’s lower down his list of priorities than trying to win a majority in Cardiff Bay.

And according to this AV campaign website, fewer than half of his Welsh Labour colleagues in Westminster have actively endorsed the change in the voting system.  As for the Welsh Conservatives, they say they’ll be campaigning for a no vote, but ‘first and foremost’ will have their sights on the Assembly election.

It’s the Welsh Liberal Democrats who you’d expect to be coming out to battle for AV. After all, it is one of their party’s flagship policies. But earlier this week, Peter Black AM wrote in his blog that despite working for a change in the voting system, his party in Wales will be fighting a more important battle:

He said: “In the face of difficult opinion polls and a UK government record to defend, survival as an Assembly group is our number one concern.”

This line has since been removed from the blog’s official page, but still exists on other versions.

Clearly, it wasn’t deemed appropriate to admit quite how worried the Liberal Democrats are about their electoral fortunes in May. And while winning the AV referendum may give Mr Clegg’s a party a boost in Westminster, it will be too late to help them out in Wales.

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About Esyllt Carr

ITV Wales Political Reporter

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