A Campaigner reflects

Well, that was two months well spent, wasn’t it? As you’ll no doubt be aware, the British public intentionally punched ‘Yes’ campaigners, like me, repeatedly in the groin and voted to keep our outmoded and creaking First Past the Post electoral system.

It had all begun so well, with significant poll leads for ‘Yes’ right into the new year. In fact, it had even continued pretty well. This poll,  for example, was taken a mere six weeks ago. Since then, however, it’s all gone significantly south, with last night’s referendum result an unambiguous 70/30 split against change.

…the British public are stupid for rejecting a change…

Lib Dems and ‘Yes’ campaigners have marked out David Cameron’s intervention in the debate as a key factor, and indeed, his repeated refusal to condemn the straight up lies and smears of the ‘No’ campaign will, one would presume, permanently strain the coalition agreement. We’ve been promised a more ‘business-like’ arrangement from now on, so it looks as though the rose-garden love-in of the first year is officially over.

Paddy Ashdown, looking on BBC News like a man who’d slept under a pier, claimed that the Tories had led the “national vilification of our party and its leader”. Indeed, a Tory-led ‘No’ campaign attacking Clegg for the compromises he made to prop up them up looks a little rich, but, regardless, using the Clegg-factor was top-drawer dirty campaigning and they’d have been useless campaigners to ignore it.

“an unnecessary central focus on events and endless campaign ‘launches’”

Other commentators have called the ‘Yes to Fairer Votes’ campaign over-earnest, and I think that criticism is pretty spot on. We fell into the classic campaigning trap of simply believing we could explain the system and for too long remained above the fray when it came to rebuttal. While local campaigners were the hardest working people I’ve ever met, there was perhaps an unnecessary central focus on events and endless campaign ‘launches’ and not enough realisation of the power of face-to-face contact with the public.

In fact, out canvassing on the last day, it was astonishing how many people were swayed to vote ‘Yes’ by a simple bit of human presence and a friendly face. I met an Asian family in West London who had voted ‘No’ simply because they believe the lie that the BNP were backing ‘Yes’. They were livid when we explained the opposite, and if we’d got out there sooner and hammered that message home, I’d bet the result would’ve been a bit closer and, at the very least, that one family could’ve voted for valid reasons.

…playing into the hands of the “give Nick a bloody nose” brigade…

One final reflection; I understand why they did it, with local elections and the pressing need for some clear blue water between the two parties, but I think senior Lib Dem intervention from the likes of Chris Huhne ultimately helped to crystallise this campaign in people’s minds as essentially Yellow, playing into the hands of the “give Nick a bloody nose” brigade. The less said about self-interested Labour dinosaurs Reid and Beckett the better, but needless to say, the party has cut off its own nose to spite its face by largely backing ‘No’ and I’m hugely disappointed.

While I’m of course gutted with the result, I don’t subscribe to the view that the British public are stupid for rejecting a change. Ultimately, we were outspent, outflanked and out-of-sync with an electorate understandably focused on what it felt were more pressing concerns. We failed to settle on a really strong, convincing argument for upgrading our democracy and we never responded quickly enough to counter-claims.

This genuinely was a once in a lifetime chance for electoral reform, and, sadly, we blew it.

Top Image Courtesy of Adam Russell


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