AV campaign – can we please keep to the point?
It isn’t fair to compare the “air” campaigns. Yes to AV are focussing on community organising – ringing people, knocking on doors, getting out the vote. Largely staffed by pissed off Lib Dems or ex-Lib Dems , they know how to do this. No to AV are, it seems, focussing on broadcasting. Their campaign is being run by Taxpayers’ Alliance types, and they are doing what they do best – shaping the public debate, ramming home their message with posters and the media and half truths.
But that isn’t an excuse for the yes campaign – or those who support it – to be crap at messaging. And so far, it seems that they are.
Because at this stage of a campaign, message is not so much about the content of the debate, but its terms. Will the discussion focus on which way you should vote to piss off a failed generation of politicians with whom we are all cross? Will it be defined by which system gives more power to voters? Will it be about the failure to secure a mandate? Or the way that Labour abandoned inner-city seats and Mill Town constituencies to BNP organisers because their focus on Middle England marginals meant marginalising the low paid, and the unemployed?
Or will it focus on the cost of implementing AV – whether or not anyone wants to focus on the voting system when the economic system is collapsing?
Well, if you are Matthew Elliot and his team at the No camp, then the last of these looks pretty appealing. If the national conversation focusses on how best to annoy MPs, then the Yes campaign will talk about the abolition of safe seats. If the question people are asking is “how the hell did we end up with massive cuts when 65% of us voted for parties promising no cuts this year?” Then the yes campaign has the simplest answer. But if the debate we are having is whether or not anyone cares about small changes to the electoral system at a time of economic crisis, then the no camp probably wins.
So, what did they do? They put out some posters – some marginally offensive, shocking posters. And then they waited for a reply from those David Mitchell would call “easily angered people” (yes, Sunny Hundal, I’m looking at you), and from the yes campaign. And once the yes-ers had taken the bait (including sending the poster to the thousands of email addresses they have spent hours collating…), they have their first fight of the campaign: are posters about maternity wards and bullet proof vests inappropriate? And all the time, the controversy makes sure people hear the message. “I’m not sure I like that poster” I think. “The yes campaign are right to complain” I think. But I do remember it. And the message sticks. And all that time that AV supporters could have been telling me that this campaign was about abolishing safe seats and ending tactical voting – all that time has been wasted. And the No campaign may have lost the battle over whether their posters are appropriate, but they aren’t trying to make anyone like them, and so that’s a battle they don’t care about. And by generating a controversy, they have ensured that their first message begins to set the terms of the debate. And so they start to win the war.
Or, take the last big action of the yes to AV campaign. BBC managers were alleged to have issued a memo saying that journalists shouldn’t talk about ‘electoral reform’ on the grounds that ‘reform’ implies improvement. So, I got an email from the yes campaign merrily telling me that one of the most respected institutions in the country – the BBC – thinks that these proposals are not real reforms – and asking me to write to them saying that they are. Do the Yes campaign really want this vote to be about whether or not we think that this piddling little compromise is a real reform? Or whether or not they know better than the BBC? Nope, didn’t think so. So why the hell are they talking about it?
So, please, yes campaigners. Stop being so predictably whingy, and, before you leap, please, next time, look at the trap that Matthew Elliot is setting for you. Because otherwise your next 2 months will be spent chasing the message, and you will run around the country chasing Matthew Elliot, and so painting precisely the picture he wants us all to see.