Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and Liberal Democrat Deputy PM Nick Clegg will today each make a five-minute speech outlining their opposing views on whether to change the election system to an alternative vote (AV) arrangement.
David Cameron will argue the current first past the post system is good for democracy in providing decisive results, while Clegg is set to claim it is out of date.
Given the threat the disagreement poses to the coalition Government, Jon McLeod, chairman corporate communications and public affairs at Weber Shandwick, told PRWeek the two leaders have to be careful about how they handle the debates.
‘This is an inevitable set piece - and the need for Clegg and Cameron to "recognise each other's differences" is not an easy one to fulfil,’ he said.
‘The strategy must be to ensure it doesn't become personal and to keep the outriders who are fervent in each campaign from knocking chunks off each other.’
Matt Carter, CEO of Burson Marsteller, added: ‘Clegg and Cameron will enjoy taking different sides in the campaign as it will help to reassure the increasingly restless backbenchers of either party that they still have an independent voice.
‘The problem for them is not the campaign but the result. Only one can win and for whoever loses, their side will see the defeat as reflecting negatively on the coalition deal.’
Labour leader Ed Miliband will argue in favour of AV although his party is divided over the issue.
The AV system works by voters ranking candidates in their constituency in a numbered order of preference. If any candidate gets more than 50% of first-preference votes, they are elected. But if no one receives 50% of first preferences, the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated and their second preference votes are redistributed.
This process continues until one candidate has at least 50% of all votes in that round.
Marc Woolfson, account director at Westminster Advisers, said: ‘Despite the press attempting to make this a story about Clegg vs Cameron, No. 10 will wish to depersonalise the story and as far as possible keep Cameron above the fray. While there is an obvious difference between the positions of the two governing parties, the Government should seek to emphasise that it is possible for the two parties to work together effectively, yet have differences of opinion.
‘One of the founding principles of the Coalition Agreement was a respect for each party’s right to hold differing views on this issue, so the No. 10 team should seek to show continuity in the Government’s position, highlighting that encouraging a diversity of opinion within the coalition is a sign of the mature "new politics" they are trying to create.'