…in which I am bitter and say “I told you so” a lot…
A year ago today, I spent the day stood outside my local polling station, trying to convince people to vote for a change to the Alternative Vote. We all know how that went.
We all know that the No campaign made up numbers about the cost of AV. We all know that we lost by a landslide. Through six months of campaigning not only didn’t we appear to capture a single undecided vote – from the final numbers it looks like we actually lost people who at the start of the campaign had said they’d vote for us.
Frankly, the Yes campaign was run so badly, we deserved to lose. There are two anecdotes that will give you enough of an insight into both the national and the regional campaigns to understand quite how abysmally the show was run. Firstly, on a national level we had the right to send out a direct mailing to every household in the UK that would have been paid for by the Electoral Commission. Yes, that would have been free to us. We didn’t. Read that again. The national campaign failed to get its act together sufficiently to send out the free mailing. In the meantime the No campaign cheerfully took advantage of their free mailing to send us leaflets telling us that no tax payers’ money had been used in sending said leaflets. Some households received four or five pieces of literature from the No campaign and none from us. Secondly, with 15 days to go to polling day I attended a staff meeting at the North East campaign office to discuss the plan for the remaining campaign time. The extent of the plan was “We have to do something every day”. And frankly, we didn’t even manage to do that.
No sooner were the results in that everyone who was anyone in the Yes campaign started writing their memoirs, pointing fingers at everyone else while completely exonerating themselves. Some of them remembered to thank the volunteers in the process; most didn’t.
All of that, however, is water under the bridge. The one bone I still have to pick is with all those people who voted against AV because it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t PR/STV/insert acronym of your choice here. It was a “miserable little compromise” (thank you, Nick Clegg). It is thanks to those electoral reform purists that the electoral reform agenda has now been buried for the foreseeable future. The really sad thing, dear purists, is that you were played. You were played from start to finish.
We were all dealt a crap hand – that was the whole point. We were given the option of keeping the status quo or making a minor change, a change that was a compromise, that no one in the pro-reform camp really saw as an ideal state; a change that the man who at the time could arguably be seen as one of the strongest pro-reform voices had gone on the record calling a “miserable little compromise”. We were given that crap hand deliberately and instead of taking it and making the best of it, we played it about as badly as we could have.
Having sown division in our ranks from the start, the Conservatives and other supporters of the outdated voting system we have were free to stand back and watch us tear ourselves apart. The LibDems were so terrified of the impending local election doom that they completely failed to support the AV campaign appropriately. Faced with practically certain obliteration in many councils, they still chose to throw their resources down that hole rather than take a long-term view.
The Yes campaign consisted of a fragile coalition of pro-reform groups with barely enough experience and clearly not enough resources between them to get a campaign going. We failed to reach out convincingly beyond the small group of dedicated activists we already had. We failed to build bridges with other groups whose interests potentially overlapped with ours, including the nascent anti-cuts movement, student occupations and other campaign groups. In a political climate increasingly hostile to the government, we kept harping on about the expenses scandal – a message that had played well 18 months previously when someone had had money to conduct the research, but had pretty much stopped being relevant by the time our campaign even started.
All of this time some of the strongest supporters of electoral reform in general opposed this kind of electoral reform in particular, because it wasn’t good enough; because in their eyes it was going to block the path to further reform. Yet somehow they never saw that a no vote would close the door on reform for good. I guess they got what they wanted.
So where are we a year down the line? The only mention of electoral reform over the past 12 months was at the Conservative Party Conference, where speaker after speaker triumphantly declared that the British people had said that FPTP was the best thing since sliced bread. The LibDems are now licking their wounds after another set of spectacular losses in local elections up and down the country. I spoke to a LibDem activist a few weeks ago who said most of them felt too bruised still from the AV campaign to even contemplate electoral reform again. The fragile coalition that was the Yes campaign has died a quiet, and frankly unmourned death, with a lot of bad blood between the different organisations and no clear direction for anyone left in this space who would like to continue to fight for electoral reform.
If you wanted PR and didn’t ruin a good pair of shoes campaigning for AV, didn’t even bother to vote for AV, I hope what you got is what you hoped for. It sure isn’t what I hoped for.
…in which I am bitter and say “I told you so” a lot…