Friday, July 23, 2010

How to win the referendum on voting reform

The campaign in favour of the alternative vote is looking for ideas to promote the campaign and persuade people to vote for voting reform in the referendum next May.

Their current message is to call for 'fair votes' to change the 'broken system' and elect a Parliament that really represents us. Similarly, opponents of reform are trying to tap into the same anti-politics mood by claiming that voting to change the electoral system will mean that the government is decided by dodgy backroom deals between politicians, rather than in democratic elections, that it is a waste of money to be fiddling around with the voting system, and that you will have to pay more taxes. They will also note the fact that it will give more power to Nick Clegg.

I don't think electoral reformers can win a campaign where both sides compete in doing anti-politics campaigning and trying to appeal to voters who hate politicians, but where the No campaign has lots more money and media support to get their message out and the Yes campaign is led by Nick Clegg. The Yes campaign also has a problem that there is a mismatch between what it says the problem is (out of touch politicians, a broken Parliament, the need for fair votes) and their proposed solution (let people write 1, 2, 3 on their ballot paper rather than put a cross by their preferred candidate).

Instead, I think that the main argument of the Yes campaign should be that the Tories want people to vote No to electoral reform, and therefore you hate the Tories or have been affected by any of their cuts, then you should vote Yes. It shouldn't be hard to come up with a poster campaign and other communications to support this simple and effective message.

Approximately 80% of people in Scotland and Wales hate the Tories, and people in these areas will be going along to vote for their parliamentary elections on the same day, so if you can get them to put a vote in for electoral reform while they are at the polling station for their main business, plus people in other parts of the country who hate the Tories, plus people who are really passionate about changing the voting system, you get a coalition of support which probably outnumbers people in places like Surrey who go along to vote No because they read in the Daily Telegraph that the alternative vote is part of the plan to make Britain part of a European Super State.

I appreciate that it would be difficult for Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems to front a campaign which is built around slagging off their new Tory chums, but I regard this as a positive feature of the campaign strategy, not a problem.


At 10:09 am , Anonymous tim f said...

haha, I really hope you cross-post this on liberal conspiracy.

Thankfully I'm sure this advice won't be taken.

At 10:13 am , Blogger donpaskini said...

Because if they did adopt this campaign message, then you would feel forced to vote Yes, whereas at the moment you are planning to vote No?

At 10:34 am , Anonymous Paul Sagar said...

Spot on.

At 12:53 pm , Anonymous tim f said...

"Because if they did adopt this campaign message, then you would feel forced to vote Yes, whereas at the moment you are planning to vote No?"

Because I think the yes campaign would stand a better chance of winning. I'm planning to campaign for a no vote, never mind just vote no.

At 2:40 pm , Blogger Vinny said...

I am agnostic on PR, but I intend to vote "No" in the AV referendum.

This referendum was the main concession Clegg got from the Tories to form a coalition with them.

Why should I reward Clegg for being the junior partner in a coalition that is undertaking massive ideological cuts and privatising education and the NHS?

A defeat in the referendum would remove one of the Lib-Dems principal rationales for being in the coaltion and make Clegg look pretty bloody silly.

Which would be a good thing.

At 3:31 pm , Blogger Hughes Views said...

Sadly, it seems to me that this referendum will, whatever the result, put back the case for genuine electoral reform by at least a decade or two.

If the answer is "yes" there'll be no further changes for at least 4/5 elections ie 20 - 25 years.

If the answer is "no" the anti-reformers can say there's no mood for reform.

However the effect of the latter might wear off more quickly than 20 years therefore the sensible strategy for those interested in real reform seems to be to vote no. Oh dear...

At 5:04 pm , Blogger Will said...

I partly agree. I fear, as you've outlined it, your strategy is only successful if Cameron etc put their faces to a No campaign. (I say this admittedly with the hindsight of Cameron seemingly wanting a referendum on electoral reform, though perhaps hindsight will strike a second time). I worry about a strategy that depends on your enemy doing what you want.

Moreover, if the government is substantially unpopular by then (a decent bet) then voting No to stick to the Liberals may have equal potency. Certainly it would fit nicely with the Labour Party's current attempt to win Liberal voters.

That said, an approach of "if we'd had AV in 2010, the Tories wouldn't be in government now", would probably be both appealing and eminently difficult to fight against. I admit this requires people to have forgotten who the Leader of the Labour Party was at the time, and it would require the Labour Party to be both popular and to have convinced the country that the spending cuts are bad. But, well, if that hasn't been done by then, perhaps the problems are somewhat larger than voting reform.


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