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Tuesday 10 May 2011

Money Buys Votes When It’s Not About Money

As the victors in the Alternative Vote (AV) referendum bask in the afterglow of the result, they may draw all manner of conclusions from the event. And many of those will be plain flat wrong. Those scrabbling on the dunghill that is Grubstreet believing that their influence is undimmed are one, and those convinced of the throwing of money at the campaign are another.

The No campaign was helped in many ways: the Yes camp was seen as divided, with Mil The Younger declining any opportunity to share a platform with Corporal Clegg. There was much emphasis on the slebs saying Yes, when some of those slebs were not universally known. The crude and serially dishonest sloganising of the No campaign was not effectively rebutted.

And then there was the money. The No campaign succeeded in painting the Yes one as somehow corrupt, though it is the No camp that did not disclose all its funding – and has still to do so. Thus distracted, voters did not question how the No camp was so much better funded.

Moreover, the money question – or lack of it – helped the No campaign enormously. Because the issue, of changing the way in which MPs were elected, while still retaining single member constituencies, was not about to make anyone better or worse off, change the tax system, or give the wider public any manner of incentive. What was in it for the voter? Sadly, not very much.

Thus the paradox: had the issue been anything on which job losses, tax and benefit changes, or the nation’s economic wellbeing had hinged, no amount of bribery would cause the electorate to choose to cast themselves as turkeys and immediately vote to hold Christmas early.

That might be usefully borne in mind by those now clamouring for an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. Because a car manufacturer that declares an intention to move its plant to Portugal, an indication from the financial services industry that it will up sticks and relocate in Frankfurt am Main, or one southern European country declining to continue to offer Brits the freedom to own property and live within its borders, and there would be something in it for the voter.

And that something would not easily be bought off, no matter what amount of money were to be thrown at the issue. Those shouting for more referenda should be careful what they wish for.

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