SOME WE LOSE . . . .
YES Campaign loses AV Referendum
The failure of the YES campaign to win the Referendum by over 2:1 is a blow to electoral reformers see http://ukreferendumresults.aboutmyvote.co.uk/en/default.aspx *. Although many of us only saw AV as a ‘stepping stone’ to more reform e.g. Proportional Representation (PR), it would have broken the status quo and could have forced the voter to take a bit more interest in politics!
So why did the YES campaign lose the vote? (It certainly was ‘lost’ since early polls put the YES vote well ahead). Anecdotal evidence even suggests that the YES vote may have won amongst postal voters who cast their votes up to two weeks before polls. Yet the tide turned in the last few weeks in the run up to the vote. Why?
The NO campaign ran a ruthless series of scare stories using (inappropriate) sporting analogies, exaggerated costings, made fictitious claims and exploited Nick Clegg’s unpopularity. Yet, frankly, their material was simply more attractive, more punchy and connected far more to the ordinary voter than that from the YES camp.
In contrast, whilst the YES campaigners sensibly settled on using celebrities i.e. non-politicians to launch the campaign, their material was far too weak and long winded. Perhaps the first mistake was holding it at the same time as various other elections as voters generally used it as referendum on the Coalition and the Liberal Democrats in particular. That was Nick Clegg and his Ministers fault (naively believing that giving the vote more ‘legitimacy’ by increasing turnout would not negatively affect the result).
In our opinion the only way to maximise the YES vote was to rally ALL reformers including those who don’t like AV (the majority?) and that could only be achieved by focusing upon the failings of the present system. Also the average voter is conservative and non-political. He/she knows something is wrong with a system that elects politicians who seem out of touch, aloof and untrustworthy. By linking these attributes with the present electoral system the YES may of added a protest vote to their total (which the NO’s certainly did).
Also many who registered with the campaign claim not have been contacted, there was no desire to build a network of local campaigners and there was no real attempt to create a cross-party, broad church campaign, despite most small parties supporting a YES vote.
Perhaps the main problem was that many in the YES camp didn’t really have their heart in the campaign as they would much rather have PR than AV!
The NO campaign, although privately reliant upon the Conservatives for much of their resources, masked their backers for fear of being accused of being the mouthpiece of vested interests (as they had ironically done by suggesting the Electoral Reform Society’s support for AV was based upon a future business benefit). This they were able to do as the YES camp focused on ‘playing fair’ but this ultimately led to the Conservative Party, rather late in the day, deciding that it was ‘safe’ for them to openly campaign against AV via leaflets. Put simply this allowed the NO campaign to have a superior quantity of as well as quality material.
Already we hear from NO supporters that the vote proves the present system (First Past The Post) is popular. Nothing could be further from the truth! The voter supported the status quo because they were unconvinced that AV was an improvement. Many NO voters would have voted YES if it was for PR. Whether we can ever get a vote on PR seems unlikely if down to Parliament (see ‘Turkey’s don’t vote for Xmas!’ http://nationalliberal.org/?p=2239). Without a referendum we can never prove that voters want PR and anti-reformers will simply rely upon these referendum results to suggest the opposite.
DISASTER FOR NICK CLEGG
For Nick Clegg the result is a disaster. The whole political price for the Liberal Democrats (LD) to join the Coalition was the AV referendum. Then again, he (and 20 others) can console themselves with their Minister-ships. Many of us believe they were so seduced by the prospects of ‘power’ that they sold themselves too cheaply (see ‘Has Nick Clegg sold out on the principle of PR’ http://nationalliberal.org/?p=244). The latest news that Labour’s Alan Johnson claims that Gordon Brown offered the Lib Dems a referendum on introducing proportional representation as their price of a coalition confirms our view.
Whilst the LD leadership might bite their tongues the membership may not be prepared to and will begin to focus on the damage done to their credibility and electoral prospects at the next General Election. Nick Clegg promised so much when elected Party Leader but he has single-handedly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
As National Liberals any defeat for electoral reform must be seen as a setback. We should however continue to call for PR (which like one on EU membership is the referendum that many want) and point out that many NO voters were YES to PR ones! If however, the LD’s begin to disintegrate and some join the National Liberals as the growing manifestation of the ‘Patriotic Liberal’ tradition (stretching back from Chamberlain, Roseberry to Simon), then at least some good can come from bad.
* A fuller analysis will follow in due course
Date: May 6, 2011