What a nasty invidious campaign the ‘No to the Alternative Vote’ side are running. From the opening shot of David Cameron’s speech on 18 February to the offensive sensationalism of the current adverts, this is a negative campaign armed with lies and preying upon ignorance and fear.
The new adverts for the ‘No’ campaign are shameless attempts at emotional blackmail. One shows a hospitalised baby with tubes in her nose alongside the text “She needs a new cardiac facility not an alternative voting system”. By implication, anyone that wants AV must be willing to deny a baby respiratory support. As Steven Baxter has pointed out in the New Statesman, this is beyond parody. Still, parody we must, and there is already an ‘ARGH to AV’ website where you can generate more fantastically barmy choices. David Mitchell must be growing apoplectic as this illustrates precisely the mad rhetoric that he was ranting about recently on 10 O’Clock Live: once again we are being presented with a choice between ‘a nice thing and a horrid thing’.
Cameron has told us it isn’t his job to explain exactly how the AV system works but confessed, “even if it was my job, I have to say, I would struggle”. If our Prime Minister is truly incapable of explaining a voting system used by the Australian public, and by British MPs themselves to elect their Speaker and officials, it is his duty to stand down. But I don’t believe Cameron would struggle to explain the system at all – his rhetoric is part of a calculated deception to persuade the British public that AV is too complex for them to comprehend. As we can’t look to our Prime Minister for a clear explanation, we must turn to other sources, such as this brilliant blog by the LSE – but not everyone will be directed to or stumble upon such material.
Another central argument of the 'No' campaign, repeated earnestly by Cameron, is that under AV some votes count more than others. We are told that someone who votes for the BNP may get their second and third preference taken into account, whereas someone who votes for one of the most popular candidates does not get their second preference counted. This is clearly untrue. As this clever infographic by the Guardian demonstrates, AV is instant runoff voting. It operates on the assumption that people who voted for someone who didn't get knocked out would vote for them again in the next round. Everyone gets the same number of votes, but some people effectively vote the same in every round and some people change their vote. Every-one’s vote counts equally in each ‘round’. No one “gets another bite of the cherry”, as Cameron would have us believe.
The figure at the centre of the 'No' campaign, that it costs £250 million, has already been debunked. For a start, it includes the £82 million we are spending on the referendum regardless of which way people vote. In any case, such an argument must rest on the premise that the best democratic system may be too expensive for the British public – a position that Cameron would no doubt deny holding.
Perhaps the most disingenuous argument of the 'No' campaign is that AV is still not a proportional system. If the Conservatives think a more proportional system, such as the Standard Transferable Vote, would be a more preferable alternative than AV, then why hasn’t it been put to us? Why have we been denied a referendum offering different options for electoral reform? The truth is that, for all the Conservatives’ talk of choice and competition, they don’t want us to have it in the arena where it matters most – our democracy.
All dirty fighters know how to finish their opponents with a final, below-the-belt blow. After the 'No' campaign has done its best to instill confusion and fear in the electorate, persuading them that they can never comprehend the complexities of AV, Cameron reveals his trump card. We should vote for First Past the Post because, unlike AV, it can be explained in one sentence.
The British public deserve better than to be patronised and lied to like this. Whatever the outcome of this referendum, people should be able to cast their vote on the basis of an informed decision and not one manipulated by propaganda.