The UK’s promised referendum on election reform is to take place on 5th May next year, and with less than 7 months to go campaigns are starting – slowly – to coalesce.

Polls show more than a 10% lead for the No side at present, so there’s plenty of work to do for the Yes side, not least because Labour is not going to be campaigning for AV – a decision rightly derided by Will Straw at Left Foot Forward here.

But what about the Yes campaign itself?

Well, is there a single campaign? Because at the moment I’m confused – and I’m a YES person.

There’s Yes to fairer votes – a smart Blue State Digital website, and it’s backed by the Electoral Reform Society, Take Back Parliament, Compass and Unlock Democracy and has John Sharkey from the Liberal Democrats on its board. Then there’s Vote for a Change, that has a bunch of high profile backers, and also claims to be supported by the Electoral Reform Society. Then there’s also Take Back Parliament, which is linked from Unlock Democracy’s website (while Yes to fairer votes is not).

Then there’s the issue of what discourse to use to make the case. This is a selection of the quotes used on the various campaign websites:
MPs will have to work harder to earn – and keep – our support. Doing just enough won’t be enough any more” (Yes to fairer votes)
You can make sure your vote always counts” (Yes to fairer votes)
Too many MPs have jobs for life. Lets shake those politicians out of their complacency.” (Yes to fairer votes)
AV is a small change which will make a big difference” (Yes to fairer votes)
Support a hung parliament” (Vote for a Change)
Politicians have let us down. It’s time for a change.” (Vote for a Change)
This Parliament does not represent us. We demand fair votes now. There must never again be an election under this broken system.” (Take Back Parliament)

I fear that none of this hits the mark. For me the advantage of Alternative Vote / AV is that it allows a voter to first of all – in safety – vote with their heart. It’s possible to vote Green without the fear that it might allow the Tories to sneak in. It’s possible to vote UKIP without fear that Labour will sneak in. The second preference is where the ‘least worst’ vote comes in. How do you manage to articulate that in discourse? For none of the main quotes above get close to that, and indeed strike an anti-politics rhetoric that’s not handy, or promise things that AV cannot deliver. I think some Yes campaigners need to start reading Lakoff – soon!

Lastly I need to personally work out how to engage with all of this. My main skill is web communications, blogging and social networks – how can I be active in that regard with these campaigns? Yes to fairer votes looks to be very e-mail based – do we need to convene ‘Bloggers for Yes’ or something like that, an ad-hoc team of web activists who can do their best to promote the case for Yes online?

Anyway, it’s going to be a long, hard slog, but at least things are starting to get interesting now!


  1. Stuart Emmerson


    There are the SEVEN QUESTIONS which come up repeatedly in some form or other in conversation with members of the public about AV. Here are straightforward potted answers for Campaigners to use. (Question 5A is a follow-up question which tends to occur only when you the Campaigner have brought up Australia in your answer to Question 5.)

    1. What’s this about a Referendum and what is it all for?
    ANSWER: There’s going to be a national referendum on 5th May 2011 on a proposal to change to a fairer voting system called The Alternative Vote (or AV for short).

    2. Isn’t some fancy new voting system going to be confusing for everybody? I’ve heard that other voting systems are very complicated.
    ANSWER: AV is a simple improvement to our current system. It’s easy for the voter: the ballot paper is just the same, and the only change is the way you cast your one vote: you vote your preferences (1, 2, 3 …) instead of marking one X-vote.

    3. What’s wrong with the way we do it now? We’re a democracy aren’t we? Why do we need to change anything?
    ANSWER: Did you know that, in our current parliament, more than two thirds of our MPs do not have a genuine majority: in each of their constituencies more people voted against them than voted for them? What kind of democracy is that?

    4. It’s not a proportional system, so how can AV possibly improve our Westminster parliament?

    ANSWER: AV will make every MP much more truly representative of his/her constituents, because every one will have to win over half the votes cast – a genuine majority. So AV will increase the accountability of our MPs and the legitimacy of our parliament, both of which are desperately-needed improvements.

    5. Don’t all other voting systems mean a hung parliament every election with small parties calling the shots, like in Israel.
    ANSWER: AV will NOT make a hung parliament significantly more likely – look at the evidence of Australia where they have used AV for decades. They’ve had only ONE hung parliament since 1945, whereas in the UK we’ve had TWO!
    5A. Australia! I’ve heard that Australians do something called “the donkey vote” to protest against AV.
    ANSWER: Not so. The so-called “protest donkey vote” in Australia is NOT a protest at the AV system – it is a protest against compulsory voting (and the hefty fine levied for not voting!). Nobody is proposing compulsory voting for the UK; so the Australian donkey is a British red herring!

    6. I never bother to vote anyway because in the constituency where I live the party I support has no chance. My vote is just a wasted vote.
    ANSWER: AV will vastly reduce the number of wasted votes, and eliminate the need for tactical votes, and bring an end to split votes.

    7. This referendum is just a cynical move by Nick Clegg – it’s just a fix to give the LibDems more seats.
    ANSWER: AV is NOT the property of the LibDems or any other party. The YesToFairerVotes campaign is supported by people of good will of all political parties and of none who just want to see our democracy be better.

    Written by Stuart Emmerson ( of the Leicester &Leicestershire YES2FV Campaign.

  2. Anthony Butcher

    Hi Jon,
    I don’t consider the large number of groups campaigning on this issue to be a weakness, but rather a strength.

    The NO campaign largely consists of the Conservatives and the BNP (in terms of substantial supporters).

    In contrast, the YES campaign is not only cross-party (Labour, Lib Dems, UKIP and Greens) but also cross-public. It is a genuine people’s campaign bringing together a huge variety of groups and people such as myself who only got involved very recently.

    YES! To Fairer Votes is the main umbrella group fighting the official campaign, but I am genuinely excited that so many other groups are assisting and getting the word out. This is not a centralised campaign, but a real grass roots one.

    We are indeed putting together an informal web based group, so I will let you know when that gets going.

  3. Happy to do non-partisan stuff on this… I’ve joined the mailing list and will see what I can do.

  4. Fancy helping out with AVdebate (though it’s designed to be non-partisan, I think):

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