SUNDERLAND voters helped consign AV to the dustbin as the UK soundly rejected proposals to change the way we elect our MPs.
All eyes were on Wearside as the North East referendum count at Sunderland Tennis Centre was the first region to declare – producing a resounding “No”.
Sunderland and Durham voters balloted more than two-to-one against the alternative voting (AV) system.
Sunderland’s Tory MEP Martin Callanan, who represents the North East in Brussels and campaigned for a No vote, said: “I think it was important to get a decision on this and I think this was a very clear decision.
“People have decided they do not want AV and we’ll be sticking with the present voting system for the foreseeable future.”
Sunderland was the first North East area to declare at just after 5pm, with 59,392 voting no and 21,476 voting yes. In County Durham, 100,203 voted no and 40,435 voted yes.
The overall regional total, announced by Sunderland City Council chief executive and North East counting officer Dave Smith, was 546,138 No (71.95 per cent) and 212,951 (28.05 per cent) Yes.
Nationally, 19.1million people voted – a higher than expected turnout of 41 per cent. The final referendum result put the Yes vote at 32.1 per cent and the No vote at 67.9 per cent.
The result came after the Lib Dems, who had demanded the referendum as part of their Coalition deal with the Tories, took a pasting in the council elections in Sunderland and elsewhere.
Sunderland’s Yes campaign representatives was not present at the count.
Jamie Matthews, regional organiser for the Yes! to Fairer Votes campaign, said: “Obviously it’s disappointing. I think the issue has been very muddied in party politics.
“It’s been caught up in a political mud fight and I don’t think that’s helped at all.”
He added: “I think the issue of electoral reform will always be on the agenda when we’ve got such an unfair system as it is.”
Mr Matthews claimed the Yes campaigners had been outgunned by the No contingent thanks to £5million donated by wealthy Tories.
Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott, who backed the No campaign, said funding had not made any difference.
“The public has not engaged with this campaign at all,” she said. “There has been no enthusiasm for it.”
Paul Dixon, Sunderland’s only Lib Dem councillor, said he “wasn’t surprised” by the result.
Ms Elliott and Mr Callanan also rejected claims that the No result would put strain on the Coalition.
Mr Callanan said: “We always expected this to be a divisive issue when we agreed to have a referendum.
“The Lib Dems wanted a referendum, we’ve had a referendum and it’s been decided – unequivocally.”