LibLink: Paddy Ashdown – The AV vote matters – the no campaign’s scaremongering shows it

With the AV referendum drawing closer – and postal votes hitting doormats this weekend – there’s plenty of coverage of it in today’s newspapers, including a rather excellent piece in The Observer by former Liberal Democrat Leader Paddy Ashdown. The majority of Paddy’s piece has its sights firmly set on the increasingly pernicious NO campaign, most pertinently on this week’s “bizarre” intervention into the debate by the chancellor George Osborne –  which unsurprisingly makes it onto The Observer front page.

Here’s an extract of what Paddy has to say:

What I am perplexed and deeply disturbed by is that those running the no campaign haven’t once put forward a positive case for the current system and instead have spent their time lying about AV.

I have seen principle-free machine politics in action many times and it is never a pretty sight. But this time really is different.

To have Baroness Warsi stand on the site of race riots in the 1930s and say that a yes vote will help the BNP is as tawdry as it is indefensible. The BNP are campaigning for a no vote. Such extremist parties as have, God help us, been elected in Britain, were elected through FPTP. As a host of independent commentators have argued, AV will diminish their chances, not increase them.

These cynical smears and scaremongering show not only the bankruptcy of the no campaign’s arguments but also how low is the level of its regard for the intelligence the public.

The strategy is clear. Throw as much mud as you can, don’t let the issue be discussed openly and frighten the public over the next three weeks into voting to preserve the power the present FPTP system has given you.

This strategy stinks of the same odour which has surrounded our politics recently.

For the chancellor of the exchequer – the chancellor of the exchequer – to claim that there is something “dodgy” about the Electoral Reform Society donating cash to a campaign in favour of electoral reform is bizarre.

Worse, for him to casually toss out slurs against a British company – Electoral Reform Services – which has widespread international respect for its impartiality in the conduct of elections and which even the Conservative party get to run their elections, is desperate.

And all of this is done by the no camp while they refuse fully to disclose their own donors!

You can read Paddy’s whole piece here.

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This entry was posted in LibLink.


  • Then again both campaigns have spent too long talking complete rubbish.

    1. From the pro camp: AV will stop expenses abuse. AV will not stop expenses abuse, only a decent expenses system will do this. An MP voted into office using AV could easily abuse the system for 5 years…
    2. From the anti camp: AV will cost £xx million. AV will not cost £xxx million this assertion is based on lies.
    3. From the pro camp: Every vote will matter: Every vote will not matter, there will still be safe seats.
    4. From the anti camp: AV will benefit the BNP: No it won’t a true PR system might but I would live with that for the benefits it would bring. Look at what happened when the BNP were on question time. They looked idiots. I sometimes think the best way to beat them is to let them start to argue to the wider population who will see right through them…
    5. From the pro camp: AV is more proportional. No it’s not and the ERS used to state this on their web site.
    6. From the anti camp: FPTP gives clear results. May 2010, enough said.

    I could go on and on. Both camps need to stop talking pants and start talking AV. If the pro camp want to keep talking about expenses abuses then they shouldn’t bleat when the anti camp stoop to Osbourne’s level. This referendum should be about AV, nothing else. The ERS are not supporting it because they want to make money, neither are those who support FPTP supporting abuses of public money.

    A plague on both their houses.

  • @Steve Way, well said, both camps are talking tosh, the level of debate has been poor.

    As for the main article, if we were voting on whether FPTP was a perfect system, then the answer would be a resounding no, but that’s not the question, we’re being asked to switch to AV, therefore it’s upto the yes camp to put forth the argument of the benefits of AV, something they haven’t been able to convincingly do.

    The no camp don’t really need to defend FPTP, it’s not about defending FPTP, it’s about whether AV is substantially better and in my opinion, it isn’t.

    The argument on electoral reform was lost when AV was announced as the only other ship in the port.

  • On balance I tend towards AV, but the yes campaign has been abysmal, the second worst campaign I can remember as a voter. The only one worse has been the no campaign. If anything shows that British politicians aren’t to be trusted with electoral reform then it has been the lies and deceit coming from all sides on what, one would hope, is an important issue. I don’t remember anything like this in the run up to referendums on mayors, or Welsh, Scottish or NI devolution. All of which sought to introduce proportional voting measures of greater complexity than AV, and none of which suffered from both sides of the argument lying out of their teeth to win the vote.

    The AV campaigns are a slur on politics and those running them are not the kind of people I want in politics.

  • Old Codger Chris 17th Apr '11 - 2:47pm

    “You may well say…..what about all the people who do not find themselves represented by the big national parties of government……. My answer is simple: I do not care that communists, marxists, BNP, EDL, hard-Greens, etc find themselves without political representation in national politics.”

    What about the 65 percent who voted for parties other than Labour in 2005? What about 5 years of Labour government in the 1970s ushered in by an election in which Labour received fewer votes than the Conservatives?

    Or 1951, when Labour’s percentage of the national vote was the highest ever obtained by a UK party without the help of an electoral pact? The Conservatives won an overall majority of seats, building on this to govern for 13 years.

    Sadly, AV will do nothing to address this denial of democracy.

  • Denis Cooper 17th Apr '11 - 8:49pm

    Jedibeeftrix –

    Without being able to step across into a parallel universe in which AV had been introduced some years or decades before the 1997 general election, there’s no way of telling what majority Blair would have got or how many Tory MPs would have survived.

    People would change their voting behaviour, which would change the course of events, and while simulated re-runs of past elections are interesting they are also unreliable and can only be a very rough guide.

    On some simulations if the 1992 general election had been held under AV then it would have resulted in Tory majority of only 5 instead of 21, and on others it would been a hung Parliament; either way the events leading up to the next election would have been significantly different from those we experienced, and the timing and outcome of that election would not have been those now being simulated for the 1997 election held under AV.

    If you want to be sure of having an effective opposition then there’s a much better way than retaining FPTP for the Commons, but I doubt that you’d welcome my suggestion about that.

  • While Paddy is right about the No campaign and there is little doubt that most of their claims are absurd, unfortunately the yes campaign hasn’t exactly been entirely honest either.

    Take for example, some of Nick Clegg claims on the one politics show, (from

    “But he said it would be “fairer” and made “every vote count”: “In the last general election, only 1.6% of the total electorate had any bearing on the final outcome.”

    Nick Clegg claimed a yes vote would “snuff out extremism” and make MPs work harder, “It’s 460,000 voters out of 45m voters, targeted in marginal seats, who made the difference. That cannot be fair. That cannot be democratic.”

    He is right, it cannot be democrat. It is also not true. Can anyone please justify the 460k, or 1.6% figure?

    (Perhaps one of his own constituents who voted for him but according to his own words had no bearing on the final outcome!)

  • @Jedibeeftrix

    Not agreeing with all your well put arguments but the line ‘the idea that only scoundrels and cads support the continuation of FPTP is ridiculous nonsense’ I absolutely endorse… the yes campaign has fallen into the trap of the almighty assumption that their arguments are automatically correct – and thus anyone who has well reasoned arguments against AV must be anti-democratic or anti-reform – hence the pathetic electoral broadcast they put out with loudspeakers hectoring MP’s.

  • Denis Cooper 18th Apr '11 - 12:36pm

    Jedibeeftrix –

    I wouldn’t support STV or any other conventional PR system for either of the Houses of Parliament.

    Instead I would prefer FPTP(AV) – SPTP, whereby:

    1. The Commons are elected as now, or even better under AV, so that the norm is that one party has an overall majority and can form a single party government.

    2. The Second Chamber comprises the candidates who came second in their constituencies at the same general election, so that the party with a Commons majority won’t also have a majority in the Second Chamber.

    3. The power relationship between the two chambers remains that laid down in the present Parliament Acts, so that the Second Chamber may delay Bills for about 13 months, other than Money Bills, and only has an absolute veto on a Bill to extend the life of Parliament.

    After more than a decade of pushing this suggestion I know that some people don’t like it, on various grounds.

    They’ll like even less what it seems they’re now going to get, but that’s their mistake.

  • After a year of harmony when we have sustained a right wing government more radical than Thatcher we appear to have rediscovered that our partner in government is the nasty party. Wonderful!!

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Apr '11 - 1:22pm

    So far as I can see, when the “No” campaign have exhausted themselves telling is how bad AV is because it will lead to “perpetual coalition” government, they turn to telling us how bad it is because it will lead to even more distortion than the current system. And when they have exhausted themselves telling us how bad AV is because it will lead to politicians becoming too moderate and not expressing any strong opinions in order to pick up transfers, they turn to telling us how bad AV is because it will lead to politicians becoming more extreme in order to pick up transfers.

    It ought to be easy to dismiss the shambles and contradictory, innumerate and illogical arguments coming from the “No” campaign. Unfortunately, the Campaign Director of the Yes to Fairer Votes Campaign is someone who last year showed a special skill in throwing away initial strong public support by the time of the actual vote.

  • Old Codger Chris 19th Apr '11 - 12:08am

    It certainly is “tough” that grossly disproportional voting systems deliver results that most people didn’t vote for.

    That it’s tough on some politicians – and much too kind to others – doesn’t matter hugely. But it does matter that governments can be elected vitually by chance, as in which voters live where, and will then pretend for the next 4 or 5 years that they have a mandate from the people.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Apr '11 - 1:02am


    AV will drag seats from the two big parties, and in doing so make it less likely that one can get a majority of seats.

    Far from writing it off, I have accepted it as a genuine argument against AV, but I have asked “No” campaigners to be HONEST about it.

    The reason AV may drag seats from the two big parties is that it removes the fear that if you don’t vote for one of teh big parties, you will “split the vote” and let the other big party win. Under AV, you can vote for the canidate you really like first, and transfer to the big party candidate you could best tolerate as a later preference, knowing that if your minor party candidate gets nowhere you have not damaged the prospects of your favoured major party candidate. It may even be that a lot of people think like you and a whole bunch only voted for the major party candidate out of fear of “splitting the vote”, and now there is no fear you all discover that actually there’s someone from outside the big two parties you all like, and taht person wins.

    You, jedibeeftrix, say this is a BAD thing. You say it is better to keep this “don’t split the vote” penalty to make people feel FORCED to vote only for the two big parties even if they don’t really like them. You say it is better that poltics is like this, where there are just two parties and no other party can makea breakthrough. That’s fine, but if you and your like were honest, you would admit that’s what you want – to FORCE PEOPLE TO VOTE FOR BIG PARTY CANDIDATES THEY DON’T REALLY LIKE.

    When I find a “No to AV” campaigner who is willing to admit that’s what their argument really is, I will know there are honest people amongst the “No to AV” campaign. But so far, I have not met or heard of such a person in the “NO to AV” campaign.

  • Well anyway, in view of the current polling evidence – particularly tonight’s 16-point lead for “No” from LDV’s favourite pollster, ICM (up from 2 points in February) – the public is wholly unconvinced by the arguments being put forward in favour of AV, and the result will be a convincing victory for the status quo. I have to say that is only fair, given the abysmal quality of the “Yes” campaign.

    The “No” campaign may have been abysmal too, but before making such an important change, surely it is reasonable to expect a strong, rational positive case to be made out for it, rather than the parade of infantile and often fallacious platitudes that we’ve been presented with.

  • @jedibeeftrix, ‘If you don’t like majoritarian government, fine.’ trouble is its not majoritarian government its minoritarian government as FPTP gives large majorities in parliament to governments which get far less than half the votes (80 seat majority for Labour in 2005 despite getting only about 35% of the votes’ which I think is undemocratic.Now AV does not solve this problem but it will lessen the undemocraticness of the system as the winning MPs will have to at least gain a majority of votes after transfer votes in order to get elected.

  • Paul McKeown 19th Apr '11 - 1:09pm

    Look, if anyone from the Yes Campaign is paying any attention at all, wake up!

    You look like you’re on a students union freebie. Why have you decided to restrict your membership to those from the centre-left? The campaign has to be inclusive. This site mentioned that at least one Conservative MP (David Mowat) had come out in favour of AV. Why has he not been given a place on the platform alongside Ed Miliband? There is even a Conservative Yes campaign (, get those guys onboard. Also, why is UKIP not invited to share the stage, given that UKIP is in favour of the Yes campaign?

    You don’t have to agree with the politics of these people, but you do need the broadest possible support amongst the populace.

    Please stop shooting yourselves in the feet.

  • Paul McKeown 19th Apr '11 - 1:53pm


    Just to be clear: I think UKIP are utterly bonkers, but they do believe in democratic politics and their policy position is non-racial, so they should be welcomed in a cross-party campaign to reform the electoral system.

  • Paul McKeown 19th Apr '11 - 1:55pm


    Personally the whole Yes Campaign seems to have Milibandite dabs all over it. He supports AV solely from his trendy wendy view that there is a “progressive” majority that would unite to keep out the Tories forever under AV (despite academic research suggesting that second preferences would have swung to the Conservatives during the eighties and early nineties, for instance). Therefore only lefties should be invited to the party.

    His outspoken demand that Nick Clegg should be kept from the campaign was childish but typical, fits in with his campaign to “destroy” the Lib Dems, even if they are the only opposition to the Conservatives in large parts of the country, and even if there are rather few Labour/Lib Dem marginals, but many Labour/Conservative marginals. He is leading a campaign that will pile up huge majorities in Labour strongholds in 2015, but also a large working Conservative majority. Anything to keep the troops happy in the meantime. Labour’s answer to Ian Duncan Smith.

  • @Paul McKeown
    “His outspoken demand that Nick Clegg should be kept from the campaign was childish but typical”

    A view shared by the campaign. Clearly they thought EM was more effective than NC or they would have told Ed to take a hike. Millibore also shared a platform with Cable who is not exactly on the Labour christmas card list at present. I think therefore you’re reading too much into this.

    I don’t support AV but I would have thought that makes me in a tiny minority amongst those who voted Lib dem at the last election. Surely therefore it is safe to assume that Lib Dem voters will support the referendum and that Labour voters need more of a push. This, coupled with the polls that all show Clegg to be less popular than Cameron to Labour voters, would vindicate keeping his profile lower than Millibands.

  • Paul McKeown 19th Apr '11 - 4:19pm

    “A view shared by the campaign. Clearly they thought EM was more effective than NC or they would have told Ed to take a hike. Millibore also shared a platform with Cable who is not exactly on the Labour christmas card list at present.”

    I think this sums up much of the thinking of the Yes Campaign: get Labour voters onboard, and they will win, a stupid assumption, when Labour propagandists are trying to whip up a hysterical campaign against the Lib Dems: just read the Guardian Echo Chamber. “Yaa boo sucks, stick it up Clegg, vote ‘no'”. That Cameron is campaigning for “No” (fear of UKIP, fear of the mythical “progressive majority”, fear of his own backbenchers) is irrelevant, they hate the Lib Dems more.

    The Yes Campaign should have sought a broad consensus from the beginning, from left to centre to right, regardless, and fought a positive campaign on the merits of the Yes vote, without any underlying assumptions about how it would affect the voting topography of the nation.

    For me, in a safe seat, it simply gives me the chance to indicate who I would prefer to form a government, after I have indicated a (wasted) first preference for the Lib Dems. Would make me feel involved in the electoral process for a change, rather than wasting my time, as usual.

  • Paul McKeown 19th Apr '11 - 4:36pm

    Basically, if David Cameron can share a platform with John Reid, it makes him look bigger than Ed Miliband who can’t share a platform with Nick Clegg (or Nigel Farage for that matter).

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