openDemocracyUK

The forces gathering for a "Yes" vote on AV

With the mood amongst sections of the Labour party turning hostile towards electoral reform, and the appointment of the combative Taxpayers' Alliance chief to lead the "No" camp, some people are already forecasting a defeat for AV in the referendum. This would be a mistake as a grassroots movement is emerging to fight the case for electoral reform.
Guy Aitchison
27 August 2010

With the mood amongst sections of the Labour party turning hostile towards electoral reform, and the appointment of the combative Taxpayers' Alliance chief to lead the "No" camp, some people are already forecasting a defeat for AV in the referendum. Over at Liberal Vision, Mark Littlewood has listed ten reasons why the Yes campaign is "staring at defeat".  Some of the strategic political reasons he lists should definitely be a cause for concern for reformers, whereas others, relating to the organisation of the Yes campaign and the arguments for AV are wide of the mark I think.

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Although it's still early days to be making any strong predictions, given most of the public won't have given the issue a moment's thought just yet, it certainly won't be the cake-walk it looked like it might be a few months ago when the referendum was announced and support for AV was about double that for first past the post in polls.

With the AV camp facing an uphill struggle, the New Statesman asked for a piece on the forces gathering to fight for a Yes vote. In a short piece, I argue that it's a mistake to be writing reformers off just yet:

For while the No camp has generated some easy headlinesand excited Tory bloggers with the news that Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Taxpayers' Alliance, is to lead the campaign, supporters of reform have been organising locally around the country. Take Back Parliament has well over 20 groups set up across the nations and regions of the UK, many made up of energetic activists of all ages who were inspired by the purple protests for voting reform organised back in May.

You may not have heard about it in the media, but lots of activity is already taking place. A series of educational purple gigs is being held, young activists are manning street stalls in their area (and coming to the attention of local media), and town-hall meetings are being planned across the country. At Take Back Parliament, we're also planning more flashmobs and rallies of the kind we held back in May.

You can take a look at the rest of the piece here.

Of course, which way the Labour party swings could be critical, especially as the No camp will be determined to paint this as a reform only self-interested Lib Dems want (ironically, given it was in the Labour manifesto). Labour MPs will be opposing the referendum bill in Parliament on account of the proposed new boundary review system it is tied up with. This is understandable given some of the more disturbing aspects of that bill which threaten the independence of the Boundary Commission. But those changes will go through regardless of which way the public vote in the referendum. Whoever becomes next Labour leader should disregard the tribal and opportunistic voices in the party, the likes of John Prescott, who will urge them to oppose reform, or sit out the referendum, in order to punish the Lib Dems.

If the Labour party is serious about renewal, as all candidates for the leadership say they are, it will need to position itself as a reforming force in British politics, not cynical defenders of the status quo. As I say in my NS piece, the movement coming together to fight for a Yes vote is grassroots and draws on authentic popular support across the country - exactly the kind of forces a party on the path to renewal should be aligning itself with. 

Read more about the AV referendum in OurKingdom's Referendum Plus section.

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