The UK record on the referendum is that there has only been the one. That, in 1975, was ostensibly a vote on continued membership of the (then) EEC, though in reality it was a device enabling Harold Wilson to keep some measure of control over an increasingly fractious Labour Party.
Yes, despite all the baying for referenda, we don’t actually do them – much. But in May, our experience of these events will double up as the country votes on a change to the voting system. The proposal is the adoption of the Alternative Vote (AV), and so the electorate is being offered two campaigns, Yes to AV, and No2AV.
So far, so straightforward, but here the shadow of the Astroturf lobby group appears: the No2AV campaign is being fronted by former stalwart of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) Matthew “Gromit” Elliott, who has brought the TPA’s tactics and lack of transparency with him.
Elliott has asserted that AV will cost the country a whopping 250 million notes, and trowels on his preference for the money to be spent on nurses, thus completing a deft manoeuvre by calling for more public spending after all his years at the TPA railing against it.
However, anyone wise to the TPA and its appetite for creative accounting (the recent “reports” on the ECHR and local Government exposed HERE and HERE) was also wise to this ploy: Elliott had reached his headline figure by assuming the change to AV would mean the adoption of voting machines, this being half of his 250 million.
But countries such as Australia, which has AV, don’t use machines. Elliott’s inclusion of that cost is there just to bump up the total, so it appears that much more scary. Added to this is his lack of candour over who is bankrolling the No2AV campaign, which also mirrors the TPA, who want everyone else to be transparent bar themselves.
Finally, the No2AV campaign is resorting to playing the man rather than the ball: Elliott, knowing that the Lib Dems are unpopular right now, is characterising the poll as “Nick Clegg’s Referendum”, which suggests, when taken with the fraudulent costs and lack of transparency, that he is getting desperate.
So the Yes campaign has plenty of opportunity to push back against this attack: highlight the dodgy figures, keep asking who is funding No2AV, and expose the flimsy “kick Clegg” line for what it is.And keep mentioning the TPA and their litany of dodgy dossiers. Because Elliott doesn’t want you to.
The key point to watch during the upcoming campaign will be the negativity of the No camp.
All their points will be focused on damaging the AV system. Their strategy is in line with climate change & evolution deniers. They will create doubt and fear.
They will offer only one benefit of the FPTP system: it doesn't give you coalition governments, and they'll deliver that bombshell with a straight face.
In my mind AV's not the answer, it's not PR, but it is a step in the right direction and will show that electoral reform isn't the road to hell. It's a path to a government that fully represents its electorate.
That's why I'll vote yes.
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