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!