The pernicious lies of the No to AV campaign

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 7 April 2011 in Diary
The No to AV campaign are insulting the electorate's intelligence by simultaneously courting their votes while saying the AV system is too complicated for them to understand, writes Laurence Durnan

Let's make up a figure and watch the Yes campaign go mental. And so was hatched, according to my associate familiar with the inner workings of the No to AV operation, the plan to claim the Alternative Vote will cost the Treasury £250m. Such a ruse will not seem unfamiliar to those with knowledge of the aggressive do-what-it-takes tactics of the TaxPayers' Alliance. Leading No to AV from the front, former TPA chief Matthew Elliot loans a not inconsiderable amount of media savvy to their effective, if occasionally shameful, campaign.

From a process point of view, the talked-about stories have come from the No camp, who have done a brilliant job of throwing up chaff, however implausible, which the pro-AV team must waste hours and days fire fighting. Take this week's story, for example, which saw black poet Benjamin Zephaniah airbrushed out of Yes to AV leaflets for the home counties.

It is true Zephaniah appeared in those leaflets for Tower Hamlets but not Tunbridge Wells. This was because Tony Robinson was bumped from the London version as a leaflet with no black faces would look strange in the capital. While the jury may be out on charges of tokenism, allegations of racism should be laughed out of court. Nor did any actual airbrushing -- doctoring of photographs -- take place. But this twist implies some form of dark, sinister process, like Soviet censors vanishing Nilolai Yezhov from a Moscow canalside. A nice touch.

We are also told that AV will help the British National Party. If this is the case we should probably dispatch a note to Nick Griffin's pig farm in Wales: he plans to vote no. A newer spin on the BNP angle is the video claiming that we shouldn't let extremists decide elections. An animation illustrates the transfer process as a fringe party is eliminated, pushing the popular victor over the 50% mark. One would hope mainstream parties would be grateful for engagement, even as a second preference, from those so alienated from politics that they protest with a BNP vote. By casting a preference vote for Labour or Conservative, many of these people will be returning home.

Is there something in the water reducing the IQ of British citizens? While courting their votes, No to AV simultaneously insult the British public by claiming the system is too complicated for them to understand. Several preference systems are already in use in Britain: Supplementary Vote (elected Mayors including London), Single Transferable Vote (Northern Ireland Assembly, local elections in Scotland and Northern Ireland and European Parliament elections in Northern Ireland).

We could continue along these lines all day. It is claimed that we will be spending 130 million on electronic counting machines despite there being no evidence for this. Australians have used AV for 90 years counting votes by hand. But this inconvenient truth wont stop the anti-AV team bludgeoning their flawed mathematics home. And you must surely have seen those posters by now?

These pernicious tactics reminds me of the scaremongering campaign against gay marriage in California, as parodied by Proposition 8: The Musical. "That wasn't right! That's a lie!" goes the cry. "But it works, so we don't care!" responds a chorus.

Therein lies the doctrine of the No to AV campaign.

Read Tom Harris's response to Laurence's blog here

Tags: AV, No to AV, Yes to Fairer Votes

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