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

The No campaign has been based on a series of lies and smears. Left Foot Forward looks in turn at the worst five examples.

Cameron's Party owns No2AV

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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