We all remember the supposed concern the NO 2 AV campaign had for the British taxpayer. You’ll remember – who could forget? – their claim that the Alternative Vote would cost £250m, and that this’ll kill babies and soldiers. You might also remember David Blunkett’s polling-day admission that that was all nonsense, but, hey, all’s fair in love, war and politics, and I guess they were just really concerned about saving taxpayers’ money. After all, TaxPayers’ Alliance founder Matthew Elliott headed up their campaign.
Just to underline how much they cared about the public purse, they boasted on the front of their literature: “None of your taxes have been used to print this leaflet”… maybe, but it turns out that they weren’t so concerned about spending shedloads of public cash on getting them delivered.
Each side of the campaign was entitled to send a leaflet, free, to households or to individual voters, just like parliamentary candidates are. Now, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request I lodged with the Electoral Commission, I have all the numbers.
To those like me who never got anything setting out the case for change, you may be surprised to learn that Yes to Fairer Votes sent out as many as 8.6m freepost leaflets, costing taxpayers under £1.5m.
This was dwarfed however by the NO 2 AV campaign. They cared about saving public money so much that they sent out 40,043,360 leaflets (millions and millions more leaflets than there are households), with the delivery of every single one paid for by you, me and every other taxpayer. The total cost of this to the public purse was almost £6.7m.
I wonder how many more midwives could have been employed for those maternity units they cared about so much, or how much more equipment for our guys on the frontline in Afghanistan, if they’d shown a little more of the concern they professed to have.
Now, like me, you probably wish the Yes campaign had taken a leaf out of the No campaign’s book and leaned on the freepost entitlement more than they did. I lost count of the number of times I was out delivering Yes leaflets, only to see a No leaflet already sitting there on the doormat, freshly delivered by the Royal Mail.
My complaint is not that money was spent to inform the electorate about arguments for and against voting reform, but the hypocrisy of the No campaign. Not only did Blunkett admit they made up their figures, it now turns out they blew over £5m more than the Yes campaign on taxpayer-funded leaflet delivery.