Politics Summary: Wednesday, May 26th

The Liberal Democrats have pushed for a referendum on the alternative vote to be held on May 5 2011.

Sign up to receive this daily email by 9am every morning.

The Liberal Democrats are targeting May 5, 2011, as the date for a referendum on the alternative vote (AV) – in a move which could disrupt the coalition. The Guardian reports that the Lib Dems fear a delay could lead to voters rejecting the proposal, and that holding it on the same day as elections to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and 280 English local councils will boost turnout.

When the referendum comes it will almost certainly lead to tension, with the Lib Dems supporting it, and David Cameron and almost the entire Tory Party opposed; for the losing side it may be impossible to carry on with their victorious colleagues. Senior Tory Peter Lilley, opening up the Queen’s speech debate, warned that the AV system would lead to “permanent hung parliaments”. The bill on AV, however, which the Conservatives support, will contain measures which advantage the party, to reduce the number of constituencies by as much as 10% and to equalise their size.

Many of the Right-wing papers, meanwhile, view the Queen’s speech as a shift to the Tories. The Times says the speech “tilted the coalition away from the Liberal Democrats”, one that “defined tax, immigration and police reform on Conservative terms… The fine print of the 18-month legislative programme revealed that he had won a series of behind-the-scenes victories over his coalition partners”. These ‘victories’ include a commitment to lower taxation; scope for George Osborne to keep rises in capital gains tax to a minimum; a reinstatement of the Tory election pledge to cut non-EU immigration to tens of thousands a year; and pressing ahead with Tory plans for elected police commissioners – using the term for the first time since the election. Other measures to please the Tories include plans to set up the office for budget responsibility and proposals to give parents and other providers more scope to set up “free schools” within the state sector. The Mail describes Cameron as having “appeased the Tory Right”, with the Lib Dems “losing ground on tax and migrants”. The Telegraph, however, is less pleased, claiming middle classes will “face higher taxes under Government plans… Workers who have saved to invest in shares and property will face higher taxes on their assets”.

The Independent reports allegations of “major electoral fraud” in Halifax, after “thousands of postal ballots were delivered by hand to polling stations” on the day of the general election. More than 4,000 ballots arrived on election day, not itself illegal but “considered unusual” since it “risks overwhelming the already-stretched safety checks aimed at minimising fraud”. Local Tories have raised questions over the validity of some of the ballots, having discovered that “a number of empty and derelict addresses in one particular ward had voters registered to them… The Tories say they have uncovered evidence of voter impersonation, phantom registrations and voter intimidation which they have passed on to the police.” However, the report adds that: “Prior to the election, questions were raised over vote-gathering tactics by Conservative candidates in the Park Ward area. In late April police arrested the then-Conservative councillor David Ginley and the prospective Tory candidate Mohammed Rashid on suspicion of electoral fraud. They were questioned and bailed pending further enquiries.” And the victorious candidate, Labour’s Linda Riordan, said of the Tories: “They are simply upset that they lost.”

The Times has an exclusive on the European Union setting its toughest targets yet in the battle to beat climate change, with a surprise plan aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent on 1990 levels within ten years, at a cost of £33bn a year. The targets will be the most ambitious in the world. The report says: “The existing target of a 20 per cent cut is already due to cost £48 billion. The Commission will argue that the lower target has become much easier to meet because of the recession, which resulted in the EU’s emissions falling more than 10 per cent last year as thousands of factories closed or cut production. Emissions last year were already 14 per cent below 1990 levels… Connie Hedegaard, the Climate Commissioner, will make the case for the EU to commit itself unilaterally to a 30 per cent cut, to inspire other countries to follow suit and accelerate the development of low-carbon industries.” The plan, if implemented by the EU, could cause tensions in the UK government, with the Liberal Democrats promising in their manifesto to adopt the 30 per cent target “unilaterally and immediately” but the Conservatives suggesting they would oppose such a move.

And the major international story this morning is the rising level of tension on the Korean peninsula. The Guardian reports North Korea’s severing of all ties with the South, expelling South Koreans in the shared industrialised zone, leaving relations “at their worst point for years”. The retaliation follows Lee Myong-bak’s announcement that Seoul would “suspend trade, ban Northern ships from its waters and take Pyongyang to the UN security council”, the South Korean President adding that Seoul “would redesignate the North as its ‘main enemy’ – a term it dropped six years ago, when relations were thawing”. The report adds that Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, “called stability on the Korean peninsula a ‘shared responsibility’ of China and the US”. Speaking in Beijing she insisted: “No one is more concerned about peace and stability in this region than the Chinese.” And The Independent reports that: “North Korea threatened today to close the last road link with the South if Seoul goes ahead with anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts, as Washington pressured China to help persuade the North to change its ways. The mounting antagonism between the two Koreas has shaken investors, uncertain how far they are ready to take their bitter rivalry after the South accused the North of torpedoing one of its warships.”

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.