This was a campaign that Yes could have won and at one stage they led in nearly all opinion polls. YouGov was always more sceptical about the strength of the Yes vote but one pollster, ComRes, once gave the AV camp a 27% lead. Ipsos MORI’s historical polling has long showed that the public were open to a more proportional system of election. The British people, largely undecided and uninformed about AV, were open to arguments but the onus was always on the Yes campaign to make its case. Otherwise, as Peter Kellner had warned, the traditional pattern of referenda would occur and undecided voters would support the status quo (http://my.yougov.com/commentaries/peter-kellner/voting-reform-why-the-campaign-really-will-ma.aspx):
“The status quo tends to gain ground in referendums on issues where countries are divided. This happened in Scotland in 1979, when a large pro-devolution majority melted away in the final fortnight of the campaign; in Spain in 1986, where the public narrowly voted to stay in NATO after all; and in Australia in 1999, when the apparently dominant republicans ended up heavily defeated in a referendum to replace the Queen as head of state. I would not be greatly surprised if something similar happened here with voting reform.”
If Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are the big losers of this campaign there are three big winners.
First are the Labour opponents of electoral reform. Joan Ryan and Jane Kennedy won the internal argument in their party, much to the annoyance of Neil Kinnock and the other believers in an anti-Tory majority. Ed Miliband knows that if he offers any kind of AV or PR to Nick Clegg or his successor he risks a major clash with his own party. The British people have rejected AV and won’t want politicians asking any similar kind of question, any time soon. They’d rather attention was focused on their living standards.
The second big winner is Matthew Elliott, the man chosen by Rodney Leach to be No’s Campaign Director. Elliott fought a national cross-party campaign that was universally derided by the Westminster commentariat until it was obvious that it was working. Now, undoubtedly, there’ll be a rush to claim credit - confirming the maxim that success has many fathers while failure is abandoned as an orphan. I can’t remember a mainstream commentator who celebrated the No campaign’s tactics. The campaign provides a new model of how campaigns should be fought. Elliott ignored the talking heads and ran a campaign that chimed with voters, not the metropolitan elite. He should also be congratulated for managing relations between very different Labour and Conservative personalities. There were disagreements but they never bubbled over. He also confronted Cameron over the vital issue of funding, forcing the Tory leadership to fight with a vigour that was proportionate to the disaster of defeat.
The third big winner is Cameron himself. He won a major victory and his great gamble paid off. Liberal Democrats voted for the boundary review that should give the Conservatives up to twenty extra MPs at the next election and in return he delivered on holding the AV referendum. The huge No2AV operation merant Conservative HQ was fighting at a close-to-general-election pace and that energisation of the Tory vote explains much better than expected local council results. In saving First Past The Post the Tory leader put the long-term electoral interests of the Conservative Party before the short-term interests of his Coalition. Conservative MPs, more than at any time in a year, now see him as on their side and as a winner. In the tough times that lie ahead, in the economy and in managing his increasingly unhappy Coalition partners, he’ll need that new reservoir of goodwill.
> ConservativeHome's main posts on the AV campaign.
> Some No2AV videos.