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Matthew Elliott: AV, expenses and the anti-politician message

MP-expensesMatthew Elliott is Campaign Director of NO to AV.

When I started as Campaign Director of NO to AV last September, my friends started sending me literature from the Yes campaign. “Make MPs work harder!” claimed one leaflet. “Stop the expenses scandal!” claimed another. “Shouldn’t the founder of the TaxPayers’ Alliance be working for the other side?” they teased. 

From reading the Yes to AV literature, you would be forgiven for thinking that it was the Electoral Reform Society rather than the TaxPayers’ Alliance who campaigned against excessive MP’s expenses. And that the Independent broke the scandal, rather than the Telegraph.

Here’s a bit of free advice for the Yes campaign – the Great Pretenders of this referendum. Stop pretending to have any claim at all to the anti-politician message. It isn’t your message, it never has been: it isn’t what you mean or what you want or what your campaign is all about. If you are going to claim to be fearless fighters for open politics, you really need the battle scars to prove it.

It would also help if you weren’t running a campaign for a voting system that would actually undermine open politics. Here’s how Oxford Professor Vernon Bogdanor described the potential effect of the Alternative Vote in the Guardian two weeks ago: “Westminster is in danger of becoming a house without windows, dominated by political maneuvering which excites the political class but alienates the voter.” Surely that’s the last thing this country wants. Alienated voters? The political classes hustling for their own advantage? That’s the exact opposite of creating a new open politics.

The Yes campaign’s anti-politician stance is also undermined by the fact that this referendum is the product of the horse trading that Professor Bogdanor warns of. The Alternative Vote system wasn’t in the manifestos of either the two political parties that are now in coalition, and virtually nobody in Britain had anything good to say about it before last May. Instead the people who are now campaigning for AV were pretty rude about it: Pam Giddy, who runs the Yes campaign, described it as “a politicians fix”. The Electoral Reform Society, who are financing the Yes campaign, wrote that AV is “not proportional and not suitable for the election of a…parliament”. And Nick Clegg, who opted for this referendum rather than keeping his promise on tuition fees, described it as “a miserable little compromise”.

The problem with the Yes campaign’s anti-politician pretence is that it is founded on a voting system that is being proposed, fought for and financed by one political party – the Liberal Democrats – for their own political gain. And one that betrays the beliefs and principles of everyone in the Yes Campaign, because instead of fighting for Proportional Representation, their brief is to fight for a system which Roy Jenkins said is even less proportional than the system we already have.

So, it is about time we ask: Where are the real reformers? Whose side are they on in the AV debate? As someone who has always wanted and fought for more transparency and honesty from our elected officials, I believe our country cannot afford a political system conducted behind closed doors, excluding the voter and benefiting one party.


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