A progressive majority has surrendered Britain to the conservative minority

Following defeat in the Alternative Vote AV referendum, Green Party activist Matt Wootton conducts an autopsy into the failures of the Yes! To Fairer Votes campaign.

The noes have it, the noes have it; Matt Wootton, who studies Cognitive Policy with his colleague Rupert Read at the Green Words Workshop, looks at the reasons for defeat

So. We lost. However much we feared this was looming, we were working and hoping up until the last minute that it wouldn’t be so. What is there to say at this point? The awful feeling of Conservative hegemony maintained is depressing enough, without the feeling that progressives, Labour, Liberals, Greens did not do enough to help ourselves.

We didn’t realise soon enough the importance of the referendum on the Alternative Vote, and if we’re going to beat ourselves up about it, as we should do at least for a little while, let’s do it with some analysis.

There are 62 million people in Britain. If just one 30th of those had given one pound the Yes campaign would have had an extra £2 million to spend, right up to their spending limit. How many people in Britain describe themselves as left, Labour, Liberal, Green, or radical? Where were they all?

Say the Labour Party has 200,000 members, and the Liberal Democrats have 60,000 members. If each of those members had given £10 each, that’s more than 2½ million pounds right there. Yet this didn’t happen, even remotely – Labour splits aside. All of the internal party efforts seem to have been lacklustre, barely-funded and voluntary.

By contrast the Tories – who bankrolled to No campaign – lent their phone bank to the NO to AV campaign. And they were raising money even before the bill obtained royal assent, in order to circumvent spending limits.

The Tories aren’t stupid. They had a clear vision from the start how a No vote would benefit them. And they acted like it. It’s almost as if the other parties, most obviously Labour, just didn’t really take seriously that AV was something they had to make happen, not least for their own benefit.

One wonders what proportion of effort was split between the AV campaign and the electoral campaigning that parties had to undertake as usual. One also wonders whether the LibDems, Greens and Labour, having spent most of May 5th splitting each other’s votes, will now have ample time to consider whether they should have taken more time out from politics-as-usual in order to forge a greater joint effort against Conservative minority control, and how they could have communicated that to the public.

The referendum on the Alternative Vote was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to change politics for the better, and to mainstream red, green and liberal politics, and sideline Conservative. But the parties, their hierarchy, their supporters and the British public didn’t treat it like that. The radical left and Labour bickered amongst themselves, to the benefit of only the Tories. And if the communications, advertising and political skills of the official ‘Yes! To Fairer Votes’ campaign represent the pinnacle of those skills in the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, then it shows how much those parties rely on tribal voting.

I’ve blogged extensively and critically about the Yes campaign at www.greenwordsworkshop.org; I’ve blogged about emotions, values and ‘cognitive policy’ and how the Yes campaign didn’t seem to know how to use any of them. But now is not the day to criticise them further. They’re feeling hurt too, as well they should be, and despite their shortcomings they did their best.

And the last people who should receive any criticism are all of those hard-working, street-pounding, keyboard-thumping individual people who sweated day after day, to make a Yes vote happen. I’ve worked with you. I’ve respected you. I’m grateful to you.

But somehow, if not individually but collectively, we have failed – even though we know that we are in the majority, and the Conservatives and Conservative voters are in the minority. We have failed. And with the tide now having turned against political reform in this country, we’re going to have several years to work out what happened, and what to do about it.

As you’re here, we have something to ask you. What we do here to deliver real news is more important than ever. But there’s a problem: we need readers like you to chip in to help us survive. We deliver progressive, independent media, that challenges the right’s hateful rhetoric. Together we can find the stories that get lost.

We’re not bankrolled by billionaire donors, but rely on readers chipping in whatever they can afford to protect our independence. What we do isn’t free, and we run on a shoestring. Can you help by chipping in as little as £1 a week to help us survive? Whatever you can donate, we’re so grateful - and we will ensure your money goes as far as possible to deliver hard-hitting news.

71 Responses to “A progressive majority has surrendered Britain to the conservative minority”

  1. Anon E Mouse

    Dave Citizen – Not being a Tory voter it’s unlikely I’d start hugging hoodies and as for anger it’s not something I suffer from. Plus the drubbing Labour got gave me a great deal of pleasure.

    As for the posh boy spoilt-toff Cameron, he is after all a Tory – what did you expect?

    This blog has become an exercise in spin and delusion and it genuinely is great fun.

    How anyone can present a situation as bad as the dire election results labour suffered May 5 is beyond me but it’s great when the least popular leader currently actually has the gaul to suggest it’s the start of a comeback.

    I have admire Miliband for something I suppose…

  2. Anon E Mouse

    Gall sorry

  3. Ed's Talking Balls

    Not anger Dave, not at all. I’m very happy with the result of the referendum. 69% of the country is too. And seeing Miliband and Denham trying to spin a poor day for Labour into a good one made me chuckle as well.

    As for the class warfare remark, go for it. It’s clearly a successful tactic for Labour, so no need to change a winning formula, I guess. All I would ask for is consistency, so that you direct your jibes at the shadow cabinet of millionaires too, in the interests of fairness.

  4. Dave Citizen

    Ed, in the interests of fairness, I think there is a difference between a millionaire who has worked hard to build up a small fortune and a bunch of old Etonians who have inherited large fortunes along with the unfair advantages that come with it. It seems some people just enjoy being lorded over.

    Mr Mouse – if Labour continue on their current path under EM I expect to be voting for them. I thought the result in Scotland was particularly uplifting as it confirms there are lots of people in the UK who don’t like to be lorded over!

  5. Matty

    Why the assumption that AV would sideline the Tories? What have we got now? The Lib Dems supporting the Tories. If AV went through there could easily have been a pact between the Tories and Lib Dems at the next election.

  6. Graham Edensounds

    It might also have had something to do with the fact that people simply didn’t want AV or FPTP at all. The vast majority of eligible voters didn’t vote for either of them. While there was plenty of energy emanating from both camps, the bottom line is, neither of these systems is particularly good, and they certainly won’t make one iota of difference to the way governance takes place in this country. just because it’s there, that doesn’t mean you have to vote for it or approve of it. You can lead a horse to water, and all that… And in this casse, both campagins failed to lead close to 60% of the electorate anywhere. It’s not that people don’t care. they’re just not that dumb. Coke or pepsi? what a choice…

  7. Ed's Talking Balls

    And there was me thinking that the Milibands come from a very rich family and have benefited from a substantial inheritance. I must be wrong about that, and wrong too to think that Ed Balls went to private school and that Diane Abbott sent her son to one.

  8. Dave Citizen

    That’s more like it Ed – now you’re focussing on the distortions and imbalances that hold this country back – there’s hope for us yet.

  9. RedCurrent

    Regardless of the systems and their merits, and those who have advertised them, one issue hasn’t been explored en-masse. We should be asking what it is the British public actually want from avoting system – whether AV, FPTP or even the Lib-Dem’s not-so-subtle long-term aim of PR.

    If Brits want democracy, then surely we want Proportional Representation, the crudest form of “one man, one vote”. If it is practicality and pragmatism we strive for, then FPTP serves perfectly with its constituency-tailored constitution and easy way of electing MPs. If it is somewhere in between, the solution is not so clear. Additionally we have a significant moral issue to deal with. Is it “right” to want a system that ignores the majority of people’s opinions in exchange for one well-liked, strong candidate? In 1951, Labour won 600,000 more votes, yet lost 20 seats and their majority. Then again, in the case of AV, it is hardly “right” to use a pseudo-plural democracy where voters could get an extra vote for every ‘loser’ party they vote for either. One must consider whether PR be considered morally justifiable as well. Fringe candidates often decide the balance of power, the ramifications of which well outweigh the number of votes they ever received. Israel’s PR system for example, allows ultra-conservative Shas Party to win just 11 of the 120 seats, yet gain 4 major cabinet positions. Essentially, should this referendum be a moral choice – even if the less efficient system is the outcome? Or should it be one based on practicality? Ideally, we would choose both.

    Indeed, it is undecided which system best combines true democracy and practicality – or if there is one at all. Winston Churchill said that democracy “is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time”. That is undeniable, and of course democracy is secure as the UK’s governing system. However, the way in which democracy is orchestrated won’t be totally secure until a satisfactory system is found and refined – one that eliminates the undemocratic elements of FPTP and the unfair elements of AV. I doubt that we’ll see it in David Cameron or Nick Cleggs’ lifetime. Hopefully though, the referendum will take us in the right direction.

  10. Ed's Talking Balls

    Yes, like you Dave I’m keen on making life in this country fairer. Clearly, we differ regarding what methods we believe appropriate to achieve that end, but I would imagine that there are a number of things we’d agree on.

    I do feel that we should be careful of painting a Tory bogeyman when it comes to wealth and greed, however. There are plenty of creeps right across the political spectrum and we shouldn’t just focus on some because they belong to a different political party.

  11. 13eastie

    @14 Matt Wootton (original poster)

    “I’m sorry to see such a range of disappointing comments from right-wingers. This is a left-wing blog. Please go somewhere else if you wish to hate. K THX BYE.”

    Everyone is on tenterhooks waiting for your lesson on humility and tolerance!

    You’ve even been slapped down by Will Straw.

    Perhaps you’re just talking garbage?

    You don’t need post on a political blog if all you wanted was a circle-jerk.

  12. Stephen W

    Mr Wootton,
    I don’t know if you were paying any attention a few days ago but Labour voters voted solidly against AV. Even 25% of Lib Dem voters voted against AV. And nobody cares how Green voters voted because there are so few of them.

    Well done to Will Straw for saying it like it is. The simple fact is that the No vote was so massive that no single piece of NO campaign dishonesty, no relative lack of funding, no single cause could possibly explain it. AV was just utterly rejected by the People.

  13. Galahad

    @11 I have to agree with Will – the people were asked and have expressed their opinion – it will be disappointing for those who wanted a yes but surely this is what democracy is about.

  14. Mike Thomas

    It was almost 2 votes to 1 in favour of NO to AV.

    And the Tories hold more council seats than all the other parties COMBINED.

    Your ‘progressive’ argument were rubbish and put forward with no conviction whatsoever.

    Must try harder because no-one is buying it.

  15. London IWW

    "A progressive majority has surrendered Britain to the conservative minority" | http://ow.ly/4PFWW | #UKpolitics #ConDem #Elections

  16. Ed's Talking Balls


    Wasn’t it more than 2:1 against AV?

    The ‘progressives’ took one hell of a hiding. No-one was buying AV because the product was so awful and I’m far from convinced that simply trying harder will successfully sell similar terrible ‘progressive’ ideas to the public.

  17. masterth

    “But somehow, if not individually but collectively, we have failed – even though we know that we are in the majority, and the Conservatives and Conservative voters are in the minority.”

    I you can’t see what is wrong with this sentence the it is no wonder you lost

  18. Daniel Pitt

    A progressive majority has surrendered Britain to the conservative minority: http://bit.ly/ktYxqY #ConDemNation

  19. Red Ryan

    What seems to be the problem with FPTP? It’s equal and fair in that everyone gets the same number of votes, 1, and each vote is weighted with an equal value. The fact that the person who wins the election doesn’t have an OVERALL majority shouldn’t be a problem – more people voted for him than any other candidate. AV is ‘a miserable little compromise’ after all, and I can understand why progressives and Left-Wingers who are in favour of electoral reform and generally some form of PR voted against it – the idea of Nick Clegg in future governments. I am personally in favour of FPTP, even over a genuinely proportionately representative system – not because i like ‘stability’ or tradition but because even small parties, with real policies and supporters can win seats under it but lunatic, extremist parties who could never realistically expand their base of support cant, but could under PR.

    We must keep the fascists out at all costs

  20. Duncan

    On the basis of what canvassing I did, and it was close down our way, the no vote was considerably boosted by ‘don’t knows’; people who started out the referendum saying they would probably vote ‘yes’ but switched to ‘no’ when the NO2AV campaign stepped up with various falsehoods – ‘it violates one man one vote’ (it doesn’t violate voter parity, which is the important norm) ‘it strengthens the BNP’ (no) ‘it hurts minority parties’ (no relative to the greens) ‘it would be expensive’ (nah, you can handcount it easy enough) ‘it’s complicated’ (if the Irish can understand it) – the volume of negativity meant that those voting anyway – it was a LibDem seat which went SNP, both YES2AV parties – opted for a No vote because they thought there was no smoke without fire and the status quo wasn’t that bad. Epic fail on the YES campaigns part, but I think it’s pretty clear to most of us that Will Straw is wrong; at least here, if the Yes campaign has been more active (and we less focused on our own elections) the ‘don’t know’ vote wouldn’t have been as strong.

    Anyone who voted NO2AV to get YES2PR, you’re crazy; it’ll now never happen (not for years, anyway) whereas it could have been part of the next coalition deal one or two general elections from now if we’d adopted AV. The alternative vote is half of the PR-STV system (the STV half); I find it difficult to be unsympathetic towards the general public for their ‘ignorance’ if the so-called advocates of electoral reform are this stupid.

    P.S. – Surely if ‘cognitive policy’ was a thing, there would be ‘non-cognitive policy’. Have to say the article reads as being a bit ‘non-cognitive’. Having gone into the referendum assuming it was in the bag you seem to be inclined to blame everyone else for it failing, including to the ludicrous point of asserting there was nothing wrong with the YES campaign, whereas the rest of us are happy enough with the idea that we all failed by not gutting the campaign leadership the second it looked to be going off the rails. Two obvious failings; the ‘this is the progressive vote’ message when a lot of right wingers would prefer AV as well (I remember thinking on election night, having seen him give a clear common sense defense of it, that Nigel Farage would have been a better choice to head the YES2AV campaign) and the ‘make your MP work harder message’ which isn’t a great, practical idea when the largest deliver networks in most constituencies are that of the party of the incumbent and most incumbents think they work pretty hard. Better would have been to stress the clear scope for a corruption in a system where you can guarantee re-election so long as a sizable enough minority will vote for you time and again (see Labour in Glasgow).

  21. Duncan

    Wow. From this description “Material policies each have a cognitive dimension, often unconscious and implicit. This includes the ideas, frames, values, and modes of thought that inform the political understanding of the material policy” of what cognitive policy is from the cognitivepolicyworks website I have to say if the above is any indicator of your understanding of ‘ideas, frames, values and modes of thought’ at play during the referendum, respectfully I think you should look for another job.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.