Within the space of seven days, Barack Obama has been transformed. Once an un-American, Presidential imposter, he now stands heralded as the Commander-in-Chief responsible for bringing America’s greatest enemy to justice. No wonder they say “a week is a long time in politics”. This dramatic week that began with the enforced decision of the Obama administration to release his birth certificate, countering claims from opposition groups, including Presidential wannabe Donald Trump, that he was born abroad and as such was not eligible for the office of President. Or friend Barry released the birth certificate with an unveiled sense of annoyance, saying that “we do not have time for such silliness”. And no wonder, after all he was at that very moment in discussions with senior military officials over a special forces mission to find and capture the sponsor of 9/11, Al Qaeda’s spiritual leader, Osama Bin Laden. They got their man, albeit not alive, and with it a particular chapter has been closed on recent US history.
This week is unlikely to be quite so volatile this side of the Atlantic. Yet for Nick Clegg it might just prove as important to his and his parties political future as the events in the US prove to Obama and the Democrats. This Thursday, the country goes to the polls, not just to decide who to vote for (Council elections across the UK and National Assembly elections in the devolved nations) but also how to vote. We will be presented with two options, one, to stick with our current system of electing MPs, First Past the Post, or two, to vote for a new electoral system called Alternative Vote. AV broadly works on the principle that the least unpopular candidate wins. Each voter ranks the candidates in order of preference (1 for the favourite, 2 for second favourite and so on.) each round the last placed candidate is knocked out and his/her voters second preferences reallocated. This process continues until one candidate has over 50% of the vote or all the votes have been counted. A much better explanation can be found here.
Regardless of the merits of AV, the result matters hugely to Clegg and his party such is the political capitol he has expended to ensure the referendum takes place at all. Win and the Lib Dems will benefit from the new system, gaining more MPs for the same portion of the vote and open up a debate that could ultimately lead to holy grail for Liberal Democrats, Proportional Representation. Clegg can claim that the gamble of joining with the Tories was not only sensible but worth it as the voting system, a major Lib Dem policy ask, had been achieved. Lose however and the outlook looks pretty bleak. Many Lib Dem voters will feel short changed by a coalition agreement that ceded so much Lib Dem policy for a chance at electoral reform that came and ultimately went. Given that a Yes vote would pose a pretty stiff challenge to Cameron’s authority too, it’s virtually impossible to see a result from which the unity of the coalition government isn’t in some way damaged. With this in mind, it seems clear there’s more than just the voting system is on the line this Thursday.