Mayday Mayday: Electoral reform referendum
Put 5 May 2011 in your diary.
It may make or break Britain's first post-war coalition.
It's the date on which Nick Clegg has persuaded David Cameron to stage a referendum on changing the voting system.
Mr Cameron tried but failed to persuade his deputy that an early vote was an early risk for the coalition. He asked Mr Clegg to focus on the risk of the referendum being lost on the same day as the government is punished at the polls. Wouldn't many Lib Dems conclude, he asked, that there was no point remaining in the coalition?
Mr Clegg insisted that he needed an early win for the Liberal Democrats in the coalition - particularly after they, and not the Tories, have been blamed for the VAT-hiking Budget. He argued that holding the referendum on the same day as elections for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh assembly, and local councils in England will increase interest and turnout.
Next Tuesday, the cabinet will be asked to back Mr Cameron's decision to give in to Mr Clegg's demand.
There is, though, another vital vote to be won before 5 May. Getting the legislation through Parliament will be the first big test for the coalition whips.
Many Tory MPs believe that they were misled into backing a referendum on the alternative vote in the frantic coalition-building days which followed the general election. David Cameron told his party that Labour had promised Nick Clegg electoral reform without a referendum. Mr Clegg has since said that that is not true. This will give some the excuse they are looking for to rebel.
In order to woo his party, the Tory leader is linking the referendum to the Conservative manifesto promise to equalise the size of constituencies - which should give the Tories a few more seats.
However, this may give Labour an excuse to vote against the legislation if it wants to cause the coalition trouble.
How, you may wonder, could Labour oppose a referendum on AV when it was the first to propose it, and promised it in the Labour manifesto? The answer's simple. It's the opposition's job to oppose.
Labour's new leader will be elected before the big Commons votes on voting reform.
He or she may recall the example of John Smith. The arch pro-European made John Major's life hell when he refused to help him take on his rebels on the Maastricht Treaty.
"Mayday Mayday": trouble looms for the coalition.