Yes! To Fairer Votes activist Tom Rouse continues Left Foot Forward's dispatches from the front; the campaign diaries of party activists on the election trail.
With elections and a referendum throughout the UK today, Left Foot Forward brings you dispatches from the frontline of politics, with party activists reporting from the campaign trail; Yes! To Fairer Votes activist Tom Rouse concludes the series with his campaign diary
The campaign for the Alternative Vote has been a tough but productive one in the West Midlands. Despite our region being dominated by Conservatives and by and large hostile Labour MPs, by mid April we were 8 points up locally and the response on the ground has remained good since, in spite of the national trend away from the Yes campaign.
The pride of the Yes campaign has been its grassroots and this pride is justified. The majority of our activists have never been involved in a political campaign before, but came together because they believed they could make a difference to our country and help fix our broken electoral system.
The local student group in particular have been at the heart of everything we’ve done, providing us with our most committed volunteers and giving up countless hours, defying the traditional image of student apathy.
In the West Midlands we embraced traditional campaign methods and made use of our extensive volunteer network to push our message at every possible opportunity. By the time you read this, we will have knocked on over 3000 doors, made 25,000 calls and distributed over 300,000 leaflets. Digital campaigning has not been neglected either. Many of you will have seen the excellent A-Z of Rubbish No2AV arguments, written by one of our local activists, while Twitter and Facebook proved invaluable in coordinating volunteers and spreading our message.
Much of the campaign has been spent rebutting the lies and half-truths spread by the no campaign. Barely a week went by without some new ridiculous accusation or myth being hurled at us. Perhaps the most galling was the 250 million cost, which despite being thoroughly debunked is still being brandished by David Cameron. Long hours were spent rebutting these claims on the phone, at street stalls and through local media, but all of this was time taken away from establishing reasons to vote for AV.
The undoubted highlight of the campaign was a rally with Eddie Izzard, Richard Burden MP and a local band at Birmingham University. Over 400 students turned up at 10pm on a Sunday to listen to Eddie and ask questions about the referendum. This may not have been the most traditional way of encouraging young people to vote, but it allowed us to reach an audience which proved resistant to more traditional methods of campaigning.
Large set piece events provided a unique challenge, alongside Eddie’s visit,we also hosted our own music festival, Yes!tival which attracted over 200 younger voters, while our volunteers and local labour supporters were visited by Alan Johnson and Kriss Akabusi. Alan also joined us out on the trail in a local ward, which, although productive, probably marked the first time in the last 20 years where he has been able to walk around and not be recognised by a single passerby.
Whatever the result nationally, I’m proud to have been part of this campaign and even prouder of the people I’ve worked alongside. Their dedication has been faultless, even when the odds seemed stacked against us. With relatively little to no support from local party structures, what we’ve achieved is nothing short of remarkable.
It’s taught me that there is a large pool of potential activists out there, which the progressive left can and must engage with. They care passionately and not just about electoral reform, but about building a fairer Britain. The challenge for the next 12 months is figuring out how to engage them in other causes.
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