Conservative Diary

Electoral reform

8 Mar 2011 08:29:00

A No vote in the AV referendum would be greeted as a triumph for David Cameron

by Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2011-03-07 at 21.59.46 I've written recently about the dire consequences of a No vote for David Cameron - see here and here - who in such an eventuality will be blamed for conceding a referendum that was then lost, for leaving John Major as the last Conservative Prime Minister of a Conservative Government (a hysterical claim, as I keep suggesting), for endangering the seats of his colleagues, and for not winning last May's election in the first place.

So it's only fair to look at the other side of the coin.

Continue reading "A No vote in the AV referendum would be greeted as a triumph for David Cameron" »

5 Mar 2011 13:05:53

Baroness Warsi tells Tory activists that defeating AV is their most important task on May 5th

Picture 10
By Jonathan Isaby 

Conservative Co-Chairman Baroness Warsi has just addressed the party's spring conference in Cardiff.

The most significant passage was a very strong call to join the campaign opposing the introduction of an AV electoral system, chiming with Paul Goodman's advice yesterday that winning the referendum must be the priority for the coming two months.

Here's what she had to say on the issue:  

"I am passionate about First-Past-the-Post. Why? Because it’s based on a fundamental British belief: a belief that has been the beacon of British democracy for centuries; a principle that has inspired millions of democrats around the world and continues to do so; the idea that one person should get one vote and every vote should weigh the same.

"Let me tell you what’s wrong with AV. 'It is the stupidest, the least scientific and the most unreal' voting system. It means that elections 'will be determined by the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates.' Conference, not my words – the words of Winston Churchill eighty years ago.

"He knew then – like I know now – that AV is wrong for Britain. It’s wrong that candidates who come third can win elections. It’s wrong that your fifth choice can count as much as my first. And it’s absolutely wrong that elections can be decided by the eccentrics who vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party, or even worse, the extremists who vote for the BNP.

"We must win this referendum. But it is not going to be an easy fight. I need each and every one of you to join the campaign! Of course, on May 5th, I want you to defend the seats we hold. Of course, we’ve got to take the seats we can. But above all on May 5th, we need to win the one election which will affect every single general election to come."

On the matter of the local elections, she indulged in some understandable expectation management in terms of how the Conservatives will fare:

"Let’s remember where we're starting from. We hold almost half of all English seats, gaining many when Labour were rock bottom in the polls. So we have a high base to defend. And let me be absolutely clear: We are going to be fielding candidates in every corner of the country. And yes, against every party in this land. And our message is clear: Labour councils waste your money. Conservative councils deliver more for less."

Continue reading "Baroness Warsi tells Tory activists that defeating AV is their most important task on May 5th" »

4 Mar 2011 18:35:29

Fledgling Conservative Yes to AV campaign launches

By Jonathan Isaby

Picture 2 A press release lands in my inbox announcing the formal launch of "Conservative Yes", a campaign designed to encourage Conservative party members to Vote Yes to AV in May's referendum.

Their website appears to be very much an offshoot of the official Yes campaign site and the only individual supporter identifiable on the site is John Strafford of Conservative Campaign for Democracy.

The press release announces that names will be released "in due course" of the "elected representatives at almost every level of government including Councillors, MEP’s, members of the devolved assemblies and former MP’s, PPC’s and sitting Peers" who support AV.

The only supporters otherwise claimed in the press release are David Melding AM and Cllr Rene Kinzlet [sic].

René Kinzett has undergone a damascene conversion to become a supporter of AV. Just a year ago, he blogged here:

"The Alternative Vote is a sham of a compromise. It does not tackle the fundamental problems associated with the current FPTP system and indeed embeds them further. The result of an AV election is not proportional to the votes cast across the country and the system offers no more choice to the elector and instead still invests most power with the politcal party machine… Let us not go forward with a reform we will regret."

4 Mar 2011 06:54:00

Cameron should have only one aim at the Spring Forum

by Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2011-03-03 at 20.49.49 What should David Cameron aim to do at the Party's Spring Forum, which opens in Cardiff tomorrow?

  • Clarify the Coalition's aims for the country?  (Whatever happened to "In the national interest?)
  • Set out a growth agenda for the economy?
  • Carve out a distinctive Conservative presence within the Government?
  • Sharpen the Party's attack on Labour?

I say: none of the above.

Continue reading "Cameron should have only one aim at the Spring Forum" »

24 Feb 2011 15:12:58

Pro AV campaign hit by cash-for-voting-machines allegations

Tim Montgomerie

Over at Coffee House Ed Howker has been joining up the dots and found out that the Electoral Reform Society has (1) made a very large £1.05 million donation to the Yes campaign and (2) sets to benefit financially if AV passes because of the extra business that will accrue to the Electoral Reform Society Ltd, its business-making arm. Howker concludes:

"The largest single donor to the 'Yes' campaign is Britain's no1 vendor of ballot papers and vote counting services – a massively profitable outfit whose commercial interest in a new, complicated Westminster voting system is clear."

George_in_the_chamber_small Tory MP George Eustice gave the following statement to ConHome:

"The ERS say they want fairer votes but what's fair about trying to buy a referendum result and then cash in with lucrative contracts for counting machines  afterwards?  This issue need to be investigated because that is not how we do politics in this country."

The polling on AV continues to confuse meanwhile. YouGov has the No campaign 7% ahead, ICM has the referendum result too close to call but Ipsos MORI has Yes 12% up.

Within the Ipsos MORI numbers there's a big lead for Yes among Labour voters. That might be shiftable if John Reid and other Labour big hitters shout about Nick Clegg's enthusiasm for AV.

> Video from David Cameron urging Tory members to campaign against AV.

18 Feb 2011 14:00:26

Tories gain 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, TWENTY new MPs

Tim Montgomerie

This week we've focused a lot on the AV referendum and the dangers it poses to good government and to the Conservative Party's future. Paul wrote the most important piece here, I addressed the same subject in today's Times (£) and, within the last hour, Iain Martin has written a blood-curdling blog on the subject.


We've neglected to properly note the importance of the other half of The Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Bill; the delivery of a long-held hope of this website for fairly-sized seats.

There has been some suggestion that the equalisation of constituency size will give the Tories about 8 to 12 extra MPs. That number is certainly not to be sneezed at but CCHQ is convinced that, if the boundaries fall where they expect them to fall, the gain is likely to be up to twenty extra Conservative MPs. Labour understand this and that is why they fought so hard against the Bill in the House of Lords.

CCHQ also believes that there will be few Tory MPs fighting over selection battles in redrawn constituencies. There'll be just one such battle in the South East of England, for example. Labour MPs will be affected much more badly. This will have two effects: Less Labour MPs enjoying the advantage of incumbency and more red-on-red selection battles.

Continue reading "Tories gain 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, TWENTY new MPs " »

18 Feb 2011 07:06:07

David Cameron warns that under AV Gordon Brown might still be Prime Minister today

By Jonathan Isaby

David Cameron 2011 Public awareness of the forthcoming referendum on adopting the Alternative Vote for Westminster election ought to be heightened by the end of today: both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are making their first interventions of the campaign since the eventual passing on Wednesday night of the legislation which formally set the ball rolling.

Nick Clegg is making a speech at 9am in favour of adopting AV, whilst David Cameron will follow just under two hours later with a speech in defence of First Past The Post.

Both men have written pieces for the Daily Mail previewing their cases, with Mr Cameron setting the scene by making an Olympic comparison:

"Let's imagine it’s August 2012. The Olympics is in London and Usain Bolt powers home first in the 100 metres. But when he gets to the podium, he’s given the bronze medal and the athlete who came second gets the gold. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it – giving the top prize to someone who didn’t win? But that’s exactly what could happen in our democracy if the country chooses the Alternative Vote system in the referendum on May 5."

He goes on to define AV as being "unfair, unclear and unaccountable."

Continue reading "David Cameron warns that under AV Gordon Brown might still be Prime Minister today" »

16 Feb 2011 08:33:28

CCHQ's anti-AV leaflets pull their punches

Tim Montgomerie

Just above this post Paul Goodman speculates at the consequences for David Cameron if First Past The Post is defeated in the AV referendum. Conservative HQ has, this morning, given ConHome a preview of the postcards that it is issuing to Tory Associations to ensure that that doesn't happen:

AVWorld AVWheelOfFortune AVRun AVScales The postcards feature the following messages on the reverse:

  • It isn't used in many places: AV is a discredited voting system. It’s only used in three countries around the world – Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea – and both Fiji and Australia want to get rid of it. By contrast, First Past the Post, our current system, is the most widely used in the world.
  • Supporters of extreme parties get many votes: "AV is an unfair voting system. With First Past the Post (our current system), everybody has one vote. But under AV, supporters of extreme parties like the BNP would get their vote counted many times, while people who vote for one of the mainstream candidates would only get their vote counted once."
  • The winner doesn't win: "The Labour leadership election showed that AV doesn’t work. David Miliband won the support of most Labour MPs and Party Members, and was ahead in the first three rounds of voting – and yet Ed Miliband became the shock new Labour leader after sneaking the fourth round by just 1%.

Continue reading "CCHQ's anti-AV leaflets pull their punches" »

16 Feb 2011 06:33:06

David Cameron risks becoming the Conservative Party's Lost Leader if Britain votes Yes to AV.

Screen shot 2011-02-15 at 20.33.31
by Paul Goodman

It's too early to guess the AV referendum result but not too early to try a thought experiment.  So let's imagine first that the people vote "Yes", and then imagine what follows.

David Cameron will be -

  • Blamed - fairly or unfairly - for conceding the referendum by many Conservative MPs and Party members.
  • Blamed for not winning the election outright.  As I've written before, I don't think that this charge is entirely just, but there's a lot of force in it.  The matter will suddenly become topical once again.
  • Blamed for leaving the Liberal Democrats in pole position.  They'd gain less from AV than some suppose.  But - assuming any substantial poll recovery by the third party - they'd be bound to pick up blue transfers where they're second to Labour, and red transfers where they're second to the Conservatives.  This expectation would give a big boost to their bargaining position within the Coalition.
  • Blamed for making it impossible for a Conservative Prime Minister to lead a Conservative Government ever again.  This charge is extravagant, because no-one knows what will happen in the future.  That won't stop it being made.
  • Blamed, above all, by Conservative MPs for putting their seats in peril.  MPs who have the Liberal Democrats a close second will be especially enraged.  They'll fear a Liberal Democrat recovery...and the yellow candidate taken over the winning line by Labour transfers.

The Prime Minister will also be blamed for the A-list, for the expenses purge, for bouncing the Party into coalition, for trying to scrap the 1922 committee, for not abolishing IPSA, for running the Party by clique, for not winning England's World Cup bid, for rats in Downing know the drill.

In short, the cry will be: "First he messes up the election.  Now he's messed up the referendum.  We'll never govern again on our own - and I'm going to lose my seat."

Even in such circumstances, the Government is unlikely to collapse.  Both Tory MPs, furious with the Prime Minister, and Liberal Democrat ones, rejuvenated by a "Yes" vote, would have a common reason not to pull down the pillars of the Coalition temple: both would fear being ousted at the polls.

But Cameron would have lost the confidence of the Parliamentary Party.  New, "collective leadership" would be demanded.  There'd probably be a Cabinet reshuffle, and not on his terms.

His authority would be weakened and the Government vulnerable to events.  Inevitably, there'd be talk of a challenge, but there's no obvious successor.  At any rate, the Prime Minister would be in danger of becoming what Nigel Birch once called one of his heroes, Harold Macmillan: the lost leader.

Some will consider this article "unhelpful".  On the contrary, it's extremely helpful.  There are fewer than twelve weeks until polling day.  If Downing Street doesn't pull its finger out and get behind the No Campaign, the above - or something very like it - is what will happen.

So it's best to face up to that now.

15 Feb 2011 08:13:32

It's decision time for Cameron. First Past The Post or Nick Clegg?

Tim Montgomerie

The No2AV campaign launches today. Matthew Elliott, campaign director, told the BBC:

"We have got a very clear message. A move towards AV would be costly to the taxpayer, would also bring greater complexity to our electoral system and produce less accountable government."

These messages are summarised in a Sun Says column:

"Changes to our voting system may not be the hottest topic of conversation. But Britain needs to wake up. The way we are all governed could soon alter fundamentally. As part of the Coalition deal, Nick Clegg secured a referendum on the Alternative Voting method where first-past-the-post is scrapped. Mr Clegg's AV crusade could cost taxpayers £250m - enough for 8,000 nurses or 5,000 bobbies. But it's not just the money. AV could land us with permanent coalitions, not decisive leadership. Manifesto pledges would become meaningless as horse-trading took place. Only smaller parties like the Lib Dems would stand to benefit. Sounds like AV is something to AVoid."

Continue reading "It's decision time for Cameron. First Past The Post or Nick Clegg?" »