The Nasty Campaign: the lies and smears of No to AV


The No to AV campaign hit a new low yesterday when it emerged that Conservative party HQ had encouraged national newspapers to print pictures of Papuan tribeswomen breastfeeding pigs, suggesting that this is “what we might have to look forward to under AV.” But the “sick attack” is just the latest in a line of lies and smears from the No campaign. Left Foot Forward looks in turn at the worst five.

Claim 1: In February, No campaign boss, Matthew Elliott, wrote for Coffee House, “the NO to AV campaign has published research showing that the change to AV will cost the UK an additional £250 million”. David Cameron has repeatedly described AV as “expensive” and provocative posters have been published to dupe the public .

The truth: The £250m figure was a made up number which included the £90m cost of the referendum itself which would take place regardless of the outcome; £130m for vote counting machines which are not needed in Australia which has AV; and £26m for voter awareness which was based on the cost of the adoption of the more complex Single Transferable Vote system for Scottish Council elections. Indeed, the only piece of equipment you need to vote with AV is a pencil.

Claim 2: The No campaign issued a briefing claiming that “in at least 35 seats around the county [sic], the votes of BNP supporters could change the balance of power”. Meanwhile Baroness Warsi told Sun readers that AV would lead to “More votes, more power, more long-term legitimacy for the BNP and other fringe parties”.

The truth: Research by the Institute for Public Policy Research looked at each of the 35 seats in turn and concluded that, “extremist parties like the BNP will be penalised by AV and their recycled votes will not influence election outcomes.” Indeed, BNP votes would not have changed the outcome of a single seat. The Fact Check website concluded that, “AV is highly unlikely to help the BNP win any seats, and the secondary votes of BNP supporters alone wouldn’t swing a seat for any other party – going on last year’s results.” No wonder the BNP oppose the switch to AV and their deputy chairman told Channel 4 News, “We are never going to get our feet under the table under the AV system”.

Claim 3: David Cameron has said, “I believe in the principle of one person, one vote, and AV would mean that votes of some people get counted more than others“.

The truth: Under AV, each voter retains one vote even though they can express more than one preference. In the final reckoning no-one gets more than one vote. The Australian elections expert, Antony Green, has explained in detail that “AV does not break the principle of one person one vote”. He uses data from the International Olympic Committee’s vote to award London the 2012 Olympic games which was awarded under AV to illuminate his point.

Claim 4: While sharing a platform with David Cameron, John Reid claimed that in Australia, when AV was introduced, turnout went down and, as a result, the Australians had to make voting compulsory.

The truth: Once again Antony Green comes to the rescue and explains that, “the theory has no backing in the Australia historic record or political science literature and is completely absent as an explanation of compulsory voting in any Australian source.” In a separate blog, Green explained that, “all elections [from 1901 to 1925 when AV was introduced across the country's states] had turnouts in the range of 50-75%, and there is no particular pattern that corresponds to a change in the electoral system.”

Claim 5: David Cameron claimed that AV is a “complex” system. The official Tory HQ twitter feed has reinforced this message.

The truth: Polling for the IPPR report found that:

“AV is not too complicated to use. Two-thirds of British voters say they think AV is ‘fairly’ or ‘very easy’ to understand. UK voters have, in recent years, proved themselves to be highly adept at using a range of different electoral systems, including preferential voting systems like AV which are already used in a number of UK elections. The British public has a broad experience of using variants of AV to elect figures in organisations across the country – and to select winners in TV programmes like The X Factor. It appears that the more familiar the public are with the way AV works, the more they support reform.”

For more information on the problems with the current, First-Past-The-Post, system, and strengths and weaknesses of the Alternative Vote read these reports. But whatever you do, don’t believe another word from the No campaign.

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  • http://www.order-order.com Guido Fawkes

    Err, IPPR’s “research” was clearly bought and paid for by Rowntree, IPPR was against AV in 2010 – got £70,000 in donations from yes funders Rowntree in early 2011 – and now it is favour of AV.

    ERS Ltd makes money out of electronic-voting systems, their shareholders have authorised £2.5 million in funds for the Yes campaign. I think we can draw our own conclusions as to why.

    Yes has made out that Nick Griffin is campaigning alongside David Cameron for FPTP – he isn’t, he is campaigning for PR. As smears go that is pretty poor.

    You are clearly just sore losers and getting your excuses in early. The stupidity of the Yes side in not making any effort to reach out to centre-right voters is manifest. You have run a “progressive” campaign which has little appeal beyond Guardian readers. The No side made sure they reached out to Labour voters, you had UKIP on your side and cold shouldered Farage. Imbecilic.

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  • http://www.stephen.r.wigmore@googlemail.com Stephen W

    The Yes campaign does seem to have gone entirely on the back foot. All they’re doing now is rebutting the No campaign rather than leading the debate themselves. This bodes badly. Guido is right. It stinks of getting your excuses in early for a big loss.

    I think this is a sad day for Britain. The Yes campaign has been rubbish. It should have accepted help from Clegg and Farage and anyone else who would have spread the PRo-Av side’s appeal. I fear they have blown it by running a comfortable centre-left Ed Miliband and Caroline Lucas campaign. Smug people congratulating each other on being so clever. Not the way to win over the vast numbers of the unconcerned.

  • Ed’s Talking Balls

    I truly hope that the Yes campaign loses. Not just for our democratic system, as I genuinely believe that FPTP is preferable to AV on its merits, but also to witness the sour grapes afterwards.

    Even if the £250m figure is wrong, the referendum is an expensive sop to the Lib Dems anyway. The electorate might well be resentful to Nick Clegg and co for demanding the country spend money which it doesn’t have on something so trivial in the scheme of things.

    Further, you have consistently said that AV won’t benefit the BNP, but Darren Johnson of the Greens has argued in a different article that voters for his fringe party would have more of a say under AV. Why is what’s sauce for the goose suddenly not sauce for the gander?

    If we’re talking about Australia, why not mention that AV is, as I understand it, unpopular over there? And if AV’s such a wonderful system, it might be worth considering why so few countries use it for their general elections.

    In terms of simplicity, I’m certain the Yes campaig has lost the argument and, in truth, never had any chance of winning it. Fair enough, polling might show that people find it easy enough to understand (although I’m dubious on this) but try asking the question ‘which do you find easier to understand, FPTP or AV? There can only be one winner: FPTP is inherently simpler.

    My last point on this very lengthy post (sorry about that!) is about ERS Ltd’s donation. Smear or not, it looks bad and you can’t deny that. In any context, people are going to be sceptical of donations made by private companies. Aside from charitable donations, private companies don’t do something for nothing. Perhaps ERS Ltd could give a solemn promise, backed up by contract, that it will never supply voting machines for use in UK elections? That would sort it.

  • Ed’s Talking Balls

    P.S. Completely agree with Stephen W that the smugness of AV’s proponents is enough to put anyone off.

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  • Barry

    The BNP wants a system of PR( my favoured system would be Germany’s Additional Member System). PR is FAIR to ALL sides of the political spectrum. AV is only likely to benefit Labour, Lib Dems, Greens and the odd Tory protest vote of UKIP. This has been recognised by many ordinary people and it is this aspect of the debate along with the Yes campaign’s image of being a front for liberal luvies which will be its undoing.

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  • CCMc

    G’Day all, Im Australian and am a member of the Liberal Party of Australia – Australia’s equivelent to the consevative party. I’m astonished by the lack of truth from the no campaign, particularly about the lies about Australia.

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  • Will Podmore

    A Yes campaign spokesman said: “Let’s put it this way. Operation Black Vote, the Muslim Council of Britain and a host of similar groups are backing the ‘Yes’ campaign. The BNP are backing the ‘No’ campaign. People can draw their own conclusions.”
    So the Yes campaign smears No voters with the BNP brush. This is to let the BNP do your thinking for you.

    Further, if we vote No, then the LibDems will have got nothing out of joining the Conservatives. Without the cushion of gaining AV, LibDem MPs would have to do more to save their seats, so they might even have to keep one or two of their election promises.

  • Daniel

    @Talking Balls: I am an Australian who simply can’t believe the British wouldn’t want the AV system (that’s why I’m posting here). AV is VERY popular in Australia, (even more so amongst people who bother to understand it). There has been one(!) poll in the last 20 years that even suggested that people may prefer FPTP, but even that poll gave people a choice between compulsory preferential voting (the system we have now), and non-compulsory FPTP. A lot of Australians would prefer not to have to vote at all, which explains the result of the poll.

    The reason the BNP would be disadvantaged, but the Greens could be better off is that extremist parties do worse under AV, while parties that appeal to people who make informed decisions and are genuinely concerned with the outcome do better. See here: http://blogs.abc.net.au/antonygreen/2011/04/is-fptp-or-av-better-for-minor-parties-and-independents.html

    Another misrepresentation I’ve seen is that there will be more spoiled ballot papers. Perhaps a few, but from checking what is actually proposed for the UK, no ballot paper that was valid under FPTP would be invalid under AV in the UK. You don’t have to add a preference if you don’t want to!

    AV lets me vote for the people I really want to govern without worrying about throwing away my vote. If I want to vote for the Greens I can without worrying that they might only get 10% of the vote, because I know that I can preference Labor or Liberal, and get a say when it comes down to a 2 horse race between the two of them. What’s not to like about that? The result is the same as if it were just the two of them running.

    Some of my fellow Australians have been very insulted in the last few weeks by British politicians and leading figures claiming Australia is in some way undemocratic. That’s ridiculous. We’ve had preferential voting for 80 years, and nobody has ever tried to change it because we all happy with the result.

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