UK Politics

AV referendum: No vote a bitter blow, says Clegg

Nick Clegg and David Cameron
Image caption PM David Cameron and Deputy PM Nick Clegg were on opposite sides of the AV debate

The public's overwhelming rejection of a change in the voting system is a "bitter blow", Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said.

More than two-thirds of those who took part in the poll opposed replacing the current method for electing MPs with the alternative vote (AV) system.

Mr Clegg told the BBC the result was "very clear" and promised to "move on".

The No to AV campaign said voters had safeguarded first-past-the-post "for the next generation".

More than 19 million people took part in the referendum on whether to keep first-past-the-post, where voters put a cross next to their preferred candidate, with AV, which sees candidates ranked in order of preference.

These preferences could have been used to decide the outcome in constituencies where no candidate wins more than 50% of votes cast.

'Expensive and unwanted'

The Conservatives backed keeping the existing system, while Mr Clegg's Liberal Democrats urged change and Labour was split on the issue.

Overall turnout for Thursday's referendum was 42%, with 6,152,607 voters backing the proposal and 13,013,123 rejecting it

Mr Clegg said: "I wish I could say this is a photo finish but it isn't and the result is very clear.

"I'm a passionate supporter of electoral reform but we've got to accept this. If, in a democracy, you ask someone a question and get an overwhelming answer, you just have to move on."

He added: "This is a bitter blow for all those people like me who believe in the need for political reform."

Prime Minister David Cameron said the referendum was always going to be a "difficult moment" for the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, but added that the result had been "clear".

He added that the government would continue to deal with the problems facing the UK in a "decisive" way.

Labour leader Ed Miliband, who supported a move to AV, said the public had "delivered a clear verdict which I accept".

But he said elections still had to change in a way which made "people feel more included in our politics".

'Shut out'

The AV referendum campaign has been marked by strong words of criticism between the two camps.

In a speech accepting his side's victory, No to AV campaign chairman Matthew Elliott said the result was "clear signal from every part of the country that people want to keep our simple, fair and effective system for electing MPs".

He added: "I personally believe this result will settle the debate about changing our electoral system for the next generation."

However, Katie Ghose, who ran the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign, which called for AV, said: "The referendum hasn't been the debate on issues of democracy that people would have hoped for.

"Too often the debate has been about party politics and the public has been shut out of discussing how we choose our MPs."

She added: "Over five million people voted for change - a tribute to our campaigners."

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