The Death of AV

The AV referendum has been lost, and by a large margin. More people than expected turned out (41%) and of those 69% were against and only 31% for the change.

The BBC’s political correspondent Ross Hawkins has an analysis of the two campaigns here. Essentially the Yes campaign argument is that they were defeated by the campaigning power of the Prime Minister; a hostile press and a tough opposing campaign. Some of that is true and the Liberal Democrats allege that Cameron had initially suggested that he would stay out of the campaign. However, although Cameron did apparently approach Tory donors and encourage them to fund the No campaign, to claim the Prime Minister had an enormous effect seems far from accurate. Thus far only eight areas have voted yes: David Cameron is not so popular as to have swung the result that much. Furthermore most traditional Labour areas seem as opposed to AV as Tory ones and as such Cameron is unlikely to have had that much effect. The press were indeed largely hostile which may well have been relevant but the plaintive whining from the Yes campaign that the No one ran a dishonest campaign is also disingenuous. The No campaign did indeed make certain claims which were hard to justify but the Yes campaign with claims that AV would have prevented the expenses scandal were just as convoluted and disingenuous.

The No campaign was much better organised and better fought. However, more than anything the No campaign had its own, not very secret, weapon: Nick Clegg. The British electorate seem willing to accept quite radical changes and even U turns by political parties out of power: Labour’s dropping of Clause 4 as an example. They even seem willing to accept gradual U turns by parties in power: again Labour’s change to accepting Nuclear power being an example. However, the electorate seem disinclined to accept a party which makes a complete volte face on a policy which they trumpeted during an election campaign and then completely reverse as soon as they are presented with the option of political power. A week is not that long a time in politics. The No to AV campaign might well have won simply by repeating the Liberal Democrats No to Tuition fees adverts.

It will now be effectively impossible for those in favour of the voting system to make a further attempt for years: probably decades. In light of that maybe the Liberal Democrats were wise in their initial plan in trying to demand that the Tories provide electoral reform without a referendum. Instead Clegg got a referendum and as Dick Tuck said in 1966: “The people have spoken, the bastards.”