Liberal Democrats defeated in UK elections after alternative vote and councils rejected; Salmond wins historic first majority vote

Friday, May 6, 2011

Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Image: Maximus0970.

Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats and deputy prime minister in the United Kingdom coalition government, has today conceded a "bitter blow" after suffering two major defeats as the electorate rejected the alternative vote system and his party was battered by its worst local election defeat in 30 years. The SNP also won the historic first majority vote in the history of Scotland, which will pave the way for a referendum on independence.

The electorate overwhelmingly rejected the alternative vote; 68 percent voting "no" to 32 percent voting "yes". The rejection was the second defeat for the Liberal Democrat leader today after the party also lost seats across the country. Gary Long, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Nottingham City Council, who lost his seat to Labour today, has publicly called for Clegg to resign after the electoral defeats. The Liberal Democrat mayor of Chorley accused Clegg of "letting the party down", and a third party leader said he should "think about his position".

Clegg, who campaigned to implement the alternative vote, was today forced to concede his party had taken a disappointing loss in failing to win the alternative vote, and sustained "big knocks" in the council elections because it was "getting the brunt of the blame" for spending cuts implemented by the coalition. While it was a good day for the Conservatives—who gained two more council seats—Clegg had lost almost half his council seats, many to Labour. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said the backlash against Clegg sent "a clear message" to the Liberal Democrats "that there needs to be a change of direction on some of the key issues". Many families who rejected his party, Clegg said, feared a return to Thatcherism. "We need to get up, dust ourselves down and move on," he said.

But tonight leading "yes" campaigners admitted they had been defeated. Chris Huhne, a Liberal Democrat minister who campaigned in support of the alternative vote, said: "The rejection has been overwhelming and we accept that." He said the public had resoundingly rejected the alternative vote, and suggested any attempt "to find some sort of backdoor method to bring something in that is not first past the post will be seen to have snubbed the clear wishes of the electorate." Counting of the ballots, which were cast yesterday across the country, is continuing tonight, but the "no" vote has already passed the winning post. Voter turnout was a higher-than-expected 41 percent.

As turmoil spreads within the Liberal Democrats, there are also reports of tension between the two coalition parties—Clegg campaigned in support of the system, but his Conservative coalition partner David Cameron campaigned against it. Although senior politicians within the coalition insist there are no differences after the campaign over the alternative vote, differences are thought to be mounting within the government. Paddy Ashdown, a former Liberal Democrat leader, today said the "goodwill and trust" between the coalition parties had all but dissolved.

Just as the Scottish people have restored trust in us, we must trust the people as well. Which is why, in this term of the parliament, we will bring forward a referendum and trust the people on Scotland's own constitutional future.

Alex Salmond, SNP leader

In Scotland, the SNP won a majority vote for the first time in the history of the country after the Liberal Democrat vote collapsed and Labour suffered an unpredicted defeat, allowing the party leader, Alex Salmond, to hold a referendum on Scottish independence. "Just as the Scottish people have restored trust in us, we must trust the people as well," he said. "Which is why, in this term of the parliament, we will bring forward a referendum and trust the people on Scotland's own constitutional future." Following a series of defeats for senior Labour politicians in Scotland the party leader, Iain Grey, announced his resignation. Cameron congratulated Salmond for his "emphatic win", but said he would fight Scottish independence "with every single fibre that I have."

Vote counting has begun in Northern Ireland, but the full layout of the Assembly will not be known before tomorrow evening. Meanwhile, Labour missed out on an overall majority in the Welsh Assembly by one seat; it now appears they may form an alliance with the Liberal Democrats. Carwyn Jones, the leader of the Labour party in Wales said the electorate wanted them to govern, but refused to dismiss the prospect of an alliance. "The one thing the people of Wales have said very clearly to us is they want Labour to stand up for them and they want Labour to lead the next Welsh government," he said. "Over the next few days all the parties will be considering their positions. The opposition parties have had some severe disappointments and things need to settle before they think about their position."