Confusion, caricature, half-truths: tactics that rattled Yes campaign

Even before polling booths closed last night, recriminations began over how electoral reformers appeared to have blown a once-in-a-generation chance to change the voting system.

At the start of the year, the campaign in favour of the alternative vote (AV) seemed to be heading for a comfortable victory as it consistently enjoyed a double-digit lead over supporters of first past the post. That changed dramatically in the last two months thanks to a No campaign that traded on half-truths and brutally effective caricature of the other side's arguments.

Largely bankrolled by Conservative donors and heavily staffed by Tory figures, it was given a cross-party veneer by the presence of several big beasts from previous Labour governments. They pooled their resources to fight a combative campaign to defend the system that had served their parties so well over the last century. They also seemed to have outspent their rivals in leafleting and publicity campaigns.

The No side received a critical boost when David Cameron, facing the threat of insurrection from the Tory Right if he presided over the demise of first past the post, became heavily involved in galvanising Conservative votes.

Supporters of AV – determined to run a grassroots campaign without politicians in leading roles – found it difficult to respond to the aggressive tactics and to make a counter-appeal on tribal grounds to progressive- minded voters. As one electoral reformer put it: "They so wanted to do the new politics that they forgot how effective the old politics could be."

They struggled to respond to the spurious claim that introducing AV would cost the country £250m, more than half of which was the price of buying electronic counting machines. No campaigner David Blunkett confessed yesterday that the figure had been "made up", but the damage was already done in hard-hitting advertisements suggesting the money could be used to save babies' or soldiers' lives.

"They were slow off the mark in knocking down some of the most egregious claims by the No campaign," one sympathiser complained.

With hindsight, the choice of Eddie Izzard – rather than the political "dinosaurs" on the other side – to front the Yes campaign was well-intentioned but naïve. A poll yesterday disclosed that only one in four of the public knew that the comedian was backing AV.

About two months ago, when Mr Cameron and other Tory Cabinet ministers weighed into the battle, the Yes campaign failed to return comparable fire. One Lib Dem source said: "We were like the Polish cavalry trying to charge the Russian tanks when Cameron and Osborne became involved. We weren't able to respond."

Some of the problem was Nick Clegg's unpopularity, making it hard for him to play a prominent role in the Yes campaign. The Labour leader Ed Miliband, a supporter of AV, described the Deputy Prime Minister as a "massive hindrance" and refused to share a platform with him.

Lib Dem sources yesterday accused Mr Miliband of being hamstrung in campaigning by the split in Labour opinion over the merits of electoral reform. One said: "We needed Miliband to deliver the Labour vote. That he failed to is down to his weak leadership."

The left-wing blogger Sunny Hundal claimed Mr Miliband and fellow Labour AV supporters "sat on the fence for too long". He said: "Even now, most Labour voters I meet on the doorstep don't know where the Labour leadership stand nor see it as a way to stick up two fingers at Cameron."

A Labour source fiercely denied the accusation, arguing that Mr Miliband "threw himself" into the campaign, adding: "We worked hard at getting the Yes argument up and running early."

The No team also succeeded in putting across simple, clear messages that distorted the case against AV but appeared to resonate with the voters. Time and again they repeated the claim that AV would give extra influence to the British National Party (ignoring Nick Griffin's support for first past the post) or that it was barely used around the world. They allowed the impression to take root that AV was complex and confusing, even though it only requires voters to rank their preferred candidates in order.

The Yes camp fought the campaign on their opponents' terms, finding it difficult to hone a convincing and memorable argument for switching to AV. "We should have tried to focus unerringly on first past the post being unfit for purpose, but that AV would retain its best features," said one supporter. "But the Yes campaign was confronted by the muscle of the British political Right, their press supporters and their donors."

The prospects for electoral reform

If more than 80 per cent of those who cast a ballot in the referendum vote No:

The argument for electoral reform is lost for a generation. The No lobby will say that the people have spoken decisively and it will be hard for the Yes lobby to disagree with this.

Between 60 and 80 per cent of participants in the referendum vote No:

Still bad but it slightly depends on the distribution of votes. If Scotland and Wales vote Yes, then reform campaigners could claim that those with a more proportional system like it.

Between 50 and 60 per cent vote No:

After the polling of the past few days, this would be a surprisingly close margin of defeat for the Yes campaigners. Small comfort, but the fight for a really proportional system would go on. If the margin of defeat is less than 5 per cent, then the pressure for Labour to consider some sort of electoral reform in its next manifesto could be strong.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone