Last knockings for AV campaign

So the arguments in the alternative vote (AV) referendum have been made (although you suspect there may be more arguments caused by the result).

Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption The AV campaign has struggled to take fire

It's a campaign which has struggled to catch fire beyond the politicians themselves, but there was at least a last-minute flurry of campaigning in the North East.

The No campaign battle bus arrived in Gateshead on Sunday, and then comedian Eddie Izzard turned up on the Newcastle quayside in the bank holiday sunshine to make the case for a Yes vote.

And the North East and its voters should have an important part to play in determining the result of this referendum.

Government MPs polarised

Polls suggest Conservative and Liberal Democrats voters are polarised on the issue.

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Image caption Eddie Izzard campaigns for Yes on the Quayside

They suggest the vast majority of Tory supporters want to keep first past the post; while most Lib Dem voters favour electoral change.

So in theory this contest could be decided by which way Labour voters jump.

And the North East of course has an awful lot of them - particularly compared to the southern regions.

Labour though has been schizophrenic on the issue.

Campaigns on tour

Two posters have toured the North East.

The Labour No2AV campaign used a picture of Clegg and Cameron going into 10 Downing Street, and urged voters to reject AV on their claim that it would cause more coalitions and backroom deals.

Labour Yes used a poster with a joyous David Cameron and George Osborne together and invited voters "to wipe the smiles off their faces" by voting for AV.

And while we know Ed Miliband is in favour of change, much of the North East Labour establishment (including a clear majority of the region's MPs) have come out against.

Perhaps that's not surprising. First past the post has served Labour well in the region.

The party got under half of the region's votes in the last general election, and yet they mopped up more than 85% of the seats (25 out of 29).

Leaving aside whether AV would have changed that very much, it hardly adds up to a compelling reason for Labour in the North East to reject the current system.

Labour and Lib Dems opposed

And although many of the region's Labour MPs don't like AV in principle, you suspect many of them also see a no vote as a chance to cause problems for the Lib Dems.

The Lib Dems are the main opposition to Labour in large parts of the region, so the antipathy in the North East tends to be much greater than it is in the south.

I know of North East Labour MPs who have a lot more respect for the Conservatives than the Lib Dems, even if they are further apart politically.

Many of them probably find it easier to be on the same side as the Tories, rather than campaign in the same camp as Nick Clegg.

There are exceptions - a significant number of Labour activists work for the North East yes campaign.

There are some sympathetic MPs too. Newcastle North's Catherine McKinnell has said she is voting yes even though one study suggests the Lib Dems would have won her seat in 2010 under AV.

Labour voters the key?

But ultimately, it's Labour voters who may well decide the overall result.

If recent polling is to be believed, the yes campaign will need to persuade a lot of the 'don't knows' to come out for them on Thursday.

But many will have already delivered their verdict, as the North East has a high proportion of people using postal votes.

I'll be in Sunderland to find out which way the North East has decided this Friday. Counting begins at 4pm.

Sunderland may be one of the first councils in the country to declare; the North East the first region.

And before that of course, there is the little matter of the local elections. I'll be live at the Carlisle count from close of polls on Thursday night.

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