In Landmark Referendum, U.K. Says No to Electoral Reform

The option of changing over to an alternative vote system - which would give smaller parties more of a chance at power – gets rejected by a margin of more than two-to-one.

PARIS - British voters rejected changes to the country's electoral system in a referendum held last week, dealing a major blow to the reform dreams of the Liberal Democrats.

According to the results, released Friday evening, the option of changing over to an alternative vote system - which would give smaller parties more of a chance at power - was rejected by a margin of more than two-to-one, with 67.9 percent voting "No", and 32.1 percent in favor of the change.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg - AFP - 5.5.11

Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg - who had been the main force behind the push for change, and had made holding the referendum a precondition for joining a Conservative led government after elections in 2010 - admitted the result was "a bitter blow for all those people like me who believe in the need for political reform."

The Lib Dems had waited three decades for Thursday's referendum and saw it as their opportunity to crack open the mold of Britain's voting system. There had been hope that, if passed, it would bring the country one step closer to considering a proportional representative system - the Lib Dems ultimate goal.

In the wake of the referendum, tensions are said to be high between the coalition partners, with many disappointed Lib Dems angry at the ferocity of tone and what they call the "dirty tactics," taken by their Conservative partners against the measure.

They are particularly angry at prime minister David Cameron for becoming so personally involved in the campaign. Cameron and his party have consistently opposed the change. But the Lib Dems say that the Conservatives did not act in a fair spirit and that their attacks against the reform became political attacks against the Lib Dems.

"There is enormous anger across the Liberal Democrats at the tactics which were employed by the 'No' campaign," Lib Dem energy secretary Chris Huhne, told the BBC. Vince Cable, the Lib Dem business secretary went even further, telling the Guardian that: "...some of us never had many illusions about the Conservatives, but they have emerged as ruthless, calculating and thoroughly tribal.

"But that doesn't mean to say we can't work with them," Cable continued, indicating that the Lib Dems do not intend to break up the coalition over this. "You have to work with people who aren't your natural bedfellows and that is being grown-up in politics."