"Coalitions are here to stay," declares Nick Clegg, leaving me scratching my head slightly. Now, if the Lib Dems had done what they should have done in the coalition negotiations and held out for nothing short of AV+, it would have been a perfectly reasonable boast. But AV on its own - and it really is jaw-dropping how large swathes of the media have spectacularly failed to cotton on to this simple fact - is not a proportional voting system, and does not in itself make coalitions any more likely. Indeed, in circumstances where the two largest parties occupy the centre ground and the smaller parties hold more radical positions (as in Australia), it can actually entrench the duopoly, and make single-party government even more likely than it would have been under first-past-the-post.
What the Lib Dems are banking on, of course, is that as a centre party they are well-placed to be "everyone's second choice" and thus make significant gains under AV. Along with making a renewed coalition more likely, those extra seats will, the theory goes, create a bridgehead from which the prize of proper electoral reform can be pushed for. But the paradox is that, as a direct consequence of entering government with the Tories, the Lib Dems' first preference vote has now utterly collapsed in the opinion polls. Unless they can reverse that trend, it will more than offset any boost they might receive from a switch to AV, and the net effect will be that future coalitions and electoral reforms have been made somewhat less probable by the Lib Dems' deal with the Tories, not more so.
Hung parliaments under first-past-the-post have tended to be a bit like solar eclipses - they occur extraordinarly rarely, and when they do it's not necessarily at a time that will suit. Yet, because they represent the third party's only golden opportunity to reform the electoral system, the moment has to be seized with both hands whenever it does crop up, otherwise that party will just condemn itself by default to a few more decades out of power. The FPTP neanderthals in the Tory ranks (not to mention the Tom Bradby ranks) seemed to instinctively sense that such a pivotal moment was upon us earlier this year, hence the hysterical attempts in the run-up to the election to weave the apocalyptic narrative that, during an economic crisis, it was not the moment to be "irresponsibly" focusing on changing the electoral system, and that no-one would ever forgive the Liberal Democrats if they did so. But, hang on - wasn't the last hung parliament election in 1974 also a "moment of crisis"? Indeed, couldn't the same have been said to some extent of other close elections, like 1979 and 1992? The message to the Liberals has invariably been : there's always tomorrow to think about fair votes, and tomorrow is never more than a few decades away.
By settling for a referendum on a voting system that no-one really wants (except, ironically, parts of the Labour party) the Lib Dems have just flunked their - and our - golden chance yet again. Next try in 2037?