Once the Tory leadership had decided to fight the No campaign with everything it had the campaign was relatively uncomplicated.
- The Tories set up their own No campaign, distinct from the official campaign (which over time became primarily dedicated to the Labour vote).
- 2.5 million items of direct mail were sent in total from CCHQ to households with Tory pledges.
- Leaflets for council, Welsh and Scottish candidates included the key No2AV messages.
- Cameron ordered at least one big No event each and every week. He wrote on the subject for every national newspaper.
- The Prime Minister and Osborne also rang every friendly newspaper editor urging them to fight for FPTP and impressing on them that their influence in a referendum where voters were not of fixed mind was much greater than a general election where opinions are not so fluid. Each of the Big Four centre right newspapers – The Sun, Mail, Telegraph and Express (The ‘Fab Four’ as they are known in CCHQ) – played full and vigorous roles. The Mail, worked by Nick Wood of Media Intelligence Partners, was especially full-on. The Times, too, argued against AV.
- Key personnel, notably Richard Chalk, the respected Chief of Staff to the Tory Co-Chairman, were told to put the No campaign at the top of their priority list.
- Because of the sterling efforts of Peter Cruddas, and Andrew Feldman, more than 90% of No’s funding came from Tory sources. The unions calculated that the Tory cheque books would do the work and never delivered on promises to deliver cash. [It is worth noting, however, that Yes received more funds than No (£3.4m to £2.6m according to The Times (£))].
It worked. It worked magnificently. Anthony Wells of YouGov was just one of the polling experts to notice the dramatic and disproportionate shift in the Tory vote:
“Conservative supporters have consistently opposed AV, but their opposition has become far firmer and more robust over recent weeks. A month ago they were opposed to AV by 58% to 22%, a week ago their opposition had crept up to 62% to 23%. This week Conservative voters split overwhelmingly (76% to 14%) against AV, presumably as a result of David Cameron throwing the full weight of the Conservative machine behind the NO campaign.”
Special mention should be made of Sayeeda Warsi in all of this. The Tory Chairman visited thirty battleground councils during this period and attacking AV was her priority message. Her suggestion that the BNP would benefit from AV made her the biggest target of Chris Huhne’s anger.
The Yes campaigned was determined to argue that AV would stop the BNP from ever winning a seat in Britain. The No campaign had to neutralise this and argued, correctly, that under AV the second preferences of poorly ranked BNP voters could be decisive in close contests. For obvious reasons Warsi delivered this message. Huhne accused the first Muslim member of the British Cabinet of acting like Goebbels. Anyone who knows Ms Warsi knows that she never minds a fight. If you cross her she hits back and hard. She took vicious pummeling from Huhne without reply. She took one for the team. The No campaign was privately delighted with Huhne's tactics. So long as his excitable attacks on the Coalition were eating all the oxygen there was less and less time for the Yes campaign to make the case for change.
Stephen Gilbert, the man Lord Ashcroft picked for his target seats strategy and now the Prime Minister’s Political Secretary, is another of the heroes of this campaign. He acted as the link man between the Tory No campaign and the official and independent No campaign. He helped fine tune the Tory campaign's messages, oversaw polling and with Darren Mott ran the decisive Get Out The Vote operation. Cameron trusts him enough not to second guess him. If Gilbert said a certain tactic was necessary or that an anxiety was misplaced, Cameron’s circle doesn’t need a second opinion.