Fair play. Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister was in very impressive form in the House of Commons today. To him fell the task of informing a very sceptical House of Commons that on May 5th 2011 there will be a referendum on changing the system of election at General Elections. Its not easy when all sides of the House are against you. For some reason, into my mind came an image of old Yorkshire cricketer, Brian Close being battered by a quartet of West Indian fast bowlers. Wonder if anyone else remembers that. The only question he received during the entire hour and a quarter that indicated some support was from Simon Hughes, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats.
The Statement didn't start well for Clegg. Began with a sweeping gesture over his right shoulder to embrace the Prime Minister, who was present offering support - only to discover he was over his left shoulder. "Where is he" came there from the benches opposite. Then Jack Straw, who opened for the Opposition recalled an article written fairly recently by the Deputy Prime Minister for the Independent when he described the Alternative Vote he was proposing today as as a "miserable little compromise". That one found the target. After announcing that the AV referendum would take place on May 5th 2011, he went on to propose the equalisation of constituencies, which he informed us was inextricably linked with the introduction of AV. All constituencies must have equal electorates (within 5% at least) and the number of MPs must fall from 649 to 600. Except of course this would not apply to the Orkney's and Shetlands or to the Western Isles. When Charles Kennedy asked a question later, some wise cracker on the Labour benches shouted out "Whatever you want Charles".
Anyway, there were perhaps 60 questions/responses - almost all hostile, from both sides. Bouncers, beamers and swerve balls were coming at him from all directions. Even the Lib Dems seemed to have nothing to say. But none of it seemed to bother our Nick. He fended them off with growing confidence I thought. And when a Labourite from Sheffield asked him a nasty question about his failure to support the town, he let fly with an assault, Botham would have been proud of. Impressed me anyway.
Personally, I think going for May 5th is a mistake. It should have been October. So now we have the choice in Wales - or at least the Secretary of Wales does. Do we have the Welsh General Election and a referendum on the same day (May 5th) or do we ask voters to venture out to the booths in March, May and June next year. I marginally prefer the latter - but its not an easy choice.