By Tim Montgomerie
One week after Yes2AV was soundly defeated it is interesting to read the Left's continuing confusion as to whether the big mistake of the Yes campaign was its failure to build any support on the Right or whether its biggest failure was not to set out to destroy the Right and David Cameron, in particular.
Angela Harbutt of LiberalVision notes Yes's failure to use Nigel Farage: "John Sharkey and Katie Ghose failed to recruit or deploy a single, credible Conservative politician. In the absence of a senior Tory, they at least had Nigel Farage actively offering his assistance from the start of 2011. If there was a single, pro-YES populist politician who could chime perfectly with Mail, Telegraph and Sun readers, the UKIP leader was that man. Ghose and Sharkey should have ripped his arm off as he extended the hand of friendship. Staggeringly, his offer of help was roundly ignored. Only with ten days to go was Farage prevailed upon by a desperate YES campaign to address some regional meetings. When he did, he was considered by most journalists present to be the star-turn."
Sunder Katwala at the Fabian Society blogs that the Yes played the anti-Cameron card far too late: "The final fortnight saw a late push by Labour, LibDem and Green voices to emphasise how much David Cameron and George Osborne hoped to gain from a No vote. Of course, the push was far too late. though media and online advocacy did shift activist audiences among the hyperengaged. For example, LabourList's monthly 'state of the party' straw poll of about 500 of its readership saw Yes finally establish a 20%+ lead among this super-engaged audience, which had been split and agnostic on AV throughout. That's not a scientific finding and it wouldn't anyway follow that a strong Labour swing among more general audiences were possible too - but the Yes campaign never really tried to find out. A great deal of Labour opinion in the north of England had long decided that the referendum was primarily about giving Nick Clegg a bloody nose."
Matt Wootton at LeftFootForward is more concerned at the failure of the Left to unite against FPTP: "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.".
Steve Gummer at LabourList also blames AV's failure on disunity on the Left and, in particular, Ed Miliband's refusal to campaign with Nick Clegg: "If Clegg and Ed Miliband had put their personal differences aside and campaigned together for AV, then I think people would soon have realised it was the best option, a defeat to David Cameron could have been delivered causing him problems with the loathsome right-wing of his own party."
In a brutal post Angela Harbutt of LiberalVision identifies Yes's central problem as an obsession with the concerns of Guardian readers: "If there was one thing that nearly tipped me to voting NO (and I didn’t), it was the direct mail leaflet with the postal vote form. From recollection, the front page featured Joanna Lumley, Eddie Izzard, Tony Robinson, Colin Firth, Stephen Fry and other such celebrities. I may as well have been sent a leaflet saying “If you love the Guardian Arts supplement, then vote YES.” It showed a completely pitiful understanding of what most people – as opposed to most electoral reform professionals – care about."
Yes never sufficiently attacked First Past The Post, says Robert Read at Liberal Conspiracy: "The problem began with the failure of the YES side to establish that there was a profound problem with FPTP. That’s the first step any campaign needs: ‘Here is a serious problem that needs fixing’. YES failed at that first hurdle.
Sunder also notes that the anti-politicians message meant some politicians wouldn't promote Yes leaflets: "There were examples of LibDem MPs who were not prepared to distribute national Yes literature, promoting messages to their own constituents that they needed a kick up the backside, though Labour reaction was probably considerably more hostile still. And there were some Labour MPs on the fence who went No on the basis of this messaging, even if others may have used it as an excuse. More significant, the choice of this central campaign frame meant several MPs who were willing to be listed as Yes voters, were unwilling to do anything else which would associate themselves with that anti-politics message, from writing opinion pieces in local newspapers to endorsing campaign activities to their own party members. As Labour voters would have had a decisive impact in a close result, anything that demobilised Labour MPs from persuading them was costly."