The Yes2AV campaign has persuaded me to change my mind

I’ve long been sceptical about the scope for online fundraising in British politics. That’s partly because I’ve seen a sequence of American political consultants come to the UK, say they know much better than Brits, promise lots and then raise not very much – across the political spectrum. I’ve also seen a sequence of people from Britain go, “Oooh! American! Shiny! Must be better!”, promise lots and then raise not very much – again, across the political spectrum.

Having been responsible for (along with Ashley Lumsden and Martin Tod) the first candidate website in the UK to take credit card donations, it’s an area I’ve been involved in and watching closely for a long time. Regular readers of this site, for example, will have often seen me talk in the past about some of the differences in politics and culture between the US and Britain which help explain these different fundraising experiences, such as the way in the US people often given money when in the equivalent scenarios in the UK they give time.

Twice my views on this topic have been dented – once by Boris Johnson’s bid for London Mayor with its impressive online fundraising and once by Evan Harris, whose constituency campaign in 2010 raised over £6,000 online.

And now there is a third dent, and on the three dents and you’re out basis that’s time to revise some of my views.

Impressive online fundraising by Yes to Fairer Votes

Yes to Fairer Votes website screenshotThis third dent comes courtesy of the Yes2AV campaign and its successful online fund-raising. Yes to Fairer Votes raised over £35,000 from 1,400 individuals in small online donations over the last week, bringing its total from online donations to over £150,000 from just under 5,000 individuals. The average online contribution is £27.05.

With direct mail and telephone fundraising raising approaching £100,000, that is nealry £250,000 raised – of which the majority has come online.

The size of the donor base compares very well to only around 1,000 donors to the No campaign (based on what they published a couple of weeks ago) and it looks to be coming from genuinely cross-party sources, again in contrast to the No campaign which is 90% funded by Conservative donors.

So three dents and I’m out. Time to revise my views on online political fundraising. Those lessons can be digested later, but in the meantime, don’t forget that what matters in the end is votes in the ballot box – so if you haven’t already, do get in touch with your local party about Yes campaigning or visit www.yestofairervotes.org.

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13 Comments

  • Yes, but the more interesting question is whether this is just making it easier for the die-hards and the converted to give, or it it a sign of increased civic participation.

    With individual campaigns (Boris) it it probably easier to get to the die-hards online, but with something like AV, there is a need to look across parties. Or at least I would hope so. The question is whether this is just the converted, those who would give in any case, or genuinely new people willing to donate having been persuaded by AV. Maybe it’s a bit of both. I would also add that I am not too sure that a move from giving time to giving money, as is tacit in the article, is all that good a thing.

    Just one other thought – I live in an Ashcroft target constituency and clearly the Conservatives spent considerably more than everyone else. Though the Conservatives won, I couldn’t really say that I thought that the higher spend made that much difference, though I’d be interested if anyone knows different.

  • In the UK I always feel because political party campaign spending and media access is always so restricted for various reasons, such as the lack of large scale television advertising and spending caps, I’m not sure how much difference this sort of fundraising makes. Seems to me it is more the general perceptions filtered through the media that matters. Hence why we saw our poll levels sky rocket after the first debate and then get pulled down as the media turned on us. I think a similar thing is happening in the AV campaign, the media and thus general perceptions are turning on us. Even the supposedly unbiased BBC had a bit of a slip up when Dimbleby was essentially acting like a no to AV panellist on question time.

  • @BCM
    Dimblebore biased ! Nooooooooo !

  • BCM – I’d agree with the first bit of that, that fundraising perhaps is not quite as important, all things considered, as it might first, seem. But I’m not sure about the second part of that.

    The media did not ‘turn’ on the Lib Dems – if anything they were very soft to election day. What happened was not some volte-face but scrutiny. The other parties had it, fair and unfair, and there is no reason that the media should see the Lib Dems as a special case.

    It might feel somehow wrong, but the live-by-the-media, die-by-the-media idea is not confined to one party. The media can say what they like about anyone. What is needed is a more general dumbing-up – this is not a Lib Dem issue.

    And I have to admit I for one think that on QT you are simply looking at something that is not there. Asserting a victimhood might feel good, but it speaks to a bit of a bunker mentality.

  • @Duncan and simonsez

    I don’t deny that we simply faced the scrutiny as other parties at the election. My point is that the media did ‘turn on us’, i.e. they focused their attention on attacking our policies, whereas previously most left leaning newspapers were focused on attacking Tory policies and most right leaning ones on Labour policies. It doesn’t matter how justified it was, all I’m saying is that it clearly made a difference.

    And on QT i’d recommend watching it and seeing how dimblebore didn’t really question any of the no to av people, but constantly repeated the ‘miserable little compromise’ quote to Huhne. It’s very dangerous when an unbiased chairman attacks one side more than others, as it creates the perception with the public that one side is factually or objectively wrong.

  • BCM – ‘they focused their attention on attacking our policies, whereas previously most left leaning newspapers were focused on attacking Tory policies and most right leaning ones on Labour policies. It doesn’t matter how justified it was, all I’m saying is that it clearly made a difference.’

    But that is scrutiny – you might see it as an attack, but that is what the media is. There really is no more to say. I don’t like it any more than the next man, but that is what political parties aspiring to government face.

    And for the record at the time I said that some of the personal abuse Brown took was disgraceful.

    ‘And on QT i’d recommend watching it and seeing how dimblebore didn’t really question any of the no to av people, but constantly repeated the ‘miserable little compromise’ quote to Huhne. It’s very dangerous when an unbiased chairman attacks one side more than others, as it creates the perception with the public that one side is factually or objectively wrong.’

    I think that it is entirely legitimate to ask a Lib Dem minister about a quote from the Lib Dem leader. But even so, this is a bunker mentality. Sorry.

  • @ Duncan

    You seem to be misinterpreting me, I’m not saying I would want the media to not scrutinise parties. The only point I was trying to make was the fact that the large mood change in the media towards the Lib Dems did make a huge difference. Similarly I’m not legitimising attacks on Gordon Brown, but I am reminded of a Daily Mail article whose main point was that Nick Clegg was half dutch and a quarter russian with a spanish wife and therefore how could he possibly govern Britain.

    It is legitimate to ask that, but it should be equally legitimate to ask the no campaign why the BNP support them, or clarify that Roy Jenkins’ report which criticised AV, did so in comparison to STV and AV+, not FPTP; Dimbleby did neither of those things. Dimbleby clearly came down on the side of the No campaign in the way he moderated the debate, which is obviously problematic.

  • The “Yes to AV” campaign may have been successful at fundraising but, quite frankly, I feel their campaign has been pretty inept so far – borne out by the “No” camp’s growing lead (16 points according to the two latest polls).

    Incidentally, so far I have received one “No” leaflet (dominated by attacks on the LibDems and Nick Clegg) and nothing from the “Yes” camp.

  • I didn’t hear Dave’the rave’ Dimbleby question Caroline Flint about Labour’s commitment to AV in their manifesto. Or was I not listening?

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