Wednesday, 25 May 2011


Ok, AV is over.Reform is always a hard road to travel, and takes a long time to get there.

Having been on the ground in Northern Ireland during the referendum campaign, I feel somewhat qualified to add my pennyworth to the debate about what happened. The simple answer is that the YES campaign didn't do enough! That is not to say that we sat back and did nothing... of course not. But the energy and commitment of those on the campaign was largely misdirected.

The campaign from the start was reactive, not proactive. From the start, right through to (beyond!) polling day, I found that people really didn't know what AV was or what the referendum was about. And this was crucial. People do not vote to change unless they know what it is about... "Better the devil you know...."

Yes, people want their politicians to work harder for their vote, and all the other things we talked about. However we failed to convince them that change was necessary to make this happen. At the same time the No campaign had simple clear messages...albeit completely false.

We were trapped then into trying to neutralise these. This is a basic mistake we made. Or were forced to make. Clearly we could not just ignore them, but by allowing THEIR arguments to define the national debate we gave them even more home advantage.

Over on Slugger O'Toole
Alan in Belfast looked at the numbers involved in Northern Ireland. The NO campaign sent out 1 million leaflets by post... the yes campaign .... 0. That's right none, zilch, zero. So by and large the only leaflets anyone here got were the ones that volunteers could push through their doors. So rather than using the Royal Mail whose whole purpose is delivery to each household, we used small groups of people targeting areas... leaving far and away the majority untouched. And the volunteers could have been so better used. Far and away the best moments during the campaign were when I got to talk to voters and explain what it was about. And most of those I am convinced will have voted yes... because they UNDERSTOOD!

Alan does point out that the result here was better than the national one. This just makes the mistake worse! With proper contact the result could have been so different.

So where now? Two things here...

1) Don't stop believing! - Reform in this country is a slow process.And Parliamentary reform is very slow. While it is clear that no reform will take place before the next election (excluding potentially House of Lords reform - more next time)- now is the time to be making the case and laying the foundations for the next attempt.

2) Granted that referenda are now the accepted weapon of choice in these duels, it is crucial that action is taken to ensure that participants in a referendum are held to account for their statements. There are no candidates in a referendum... so at the moment the Electoral Commission is powerless to take action against those who blatently lie. If referenda are ever to be used in this country again, then this must be addressed.

This blog has been inactive for a while... but I intend to use it more often now... a little project I have set myself!

1 comment:

  1. Some valid points made and many that I made over and over in the course of the campaign. It is something that even Andy May the manager of the Regional Staff was a failing on the part of London when he wrote this on Liberal Conspiracy.