Opinion: Taxpayer foots £6.7m NO 2 AV leaflet bill

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.

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  • It’s a bit late now. The autopsy of the dreadful yes campaign is already completed and the dream of electoral reform is dead, at least until the next Labour government.

    Unless you’re suggesting the referendum should be rerun due to the lies told (by both sides sadly, there is no moral high ground occupied by the yes campaign) then there is little to be gained from digging up its corpse.

  • Good grief this really is sour grapes!

  • Sid Cumberland 21st Jun '11 - 12:22pm

    ‘… at least until the next Labour government …’ Oh g, it’s the way you tell them! Haven’t laughed so much since I last laughed this much!! Labour government … electoral reform … oh, my aching sides!

  • It’s not petty and spiteful – it shows a wider point about the hypocrisy of the so called “Taxpayers Alliance” – they are willing to say and do anything to get their way!!!!

  • @Sid Cumberland

    I don’t see what you’re laughing about. The last Labour government abolished hereditary peers, devolved powers to regional governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, held a referendum on devolving powers to a regional parliament in the north of England, introduced an elected mayor to London and, with respect to these, introduced elements of PR.

    In short they achieved far more than in the Coalitions programme for government.

    Given that every one of one Labour’s reforms was voted against by the Conservative Party perhaps you should get over your hatred of Labour and realise that in terms of electoral reform you are in bed with the wrong party.

  • Foregone Conclusion 21st Jun '11 - 12:45pm


    Labour failed to deliver on House of Lords reform and it failed to deliver on PR. Half of Labour MPs campaigned against even meagre change to the voting system in the form of AV, and the number against is even greater at the grassroots. PR is more likely under a Labour govt than a Tory one, but it’s still sod all chance for the forseeable future – even to those in the Labour Party who actually agree with us, it’s still (to quote David Cameron) a ‘third-term issue’. Or, it seems, given the failure of Brown to come up with it in 2005-10, a fourth-term issue.

  • David from Ealing 21st Jun '11 - 1:10pm

    The YES campaign should also have used the freepost. We received two different NO leaflets through the post. I delivered one of our YES leaflets and another was was delivered by someone else just before polling day. The NO leaflets were full of half-truths and smear, but at least they had a message. The YES ones were boring, dreary and didn’t really say anything.

  • @Foregone Conclusion

    All you say is reasonable, but the point remains that the Labour government, between 1997 and 2010, introduced massive amounts of electoral reform, the most radical reform of voting since the victory for women’s suffrage. The referendum on AV was an attempt to deal with one of the few bits that Labour hadn’t got to grips with and legislated for. Shame it was done in such a cack handed and inadequate manner.

  • Tony Dawson 21st Jun '11 - 2:42pm

    “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……… The total cost of this to the public purse was almost £6.7m.”

    So you are complaining that the ‘No’ campaign were efficient and utilised the facility which the rules allowed while the useless ‘Yes’ campaign didn’t?

    “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. ”

    er…no. The rubbish they put out would likely have had little effect on the outcome if more had been sent out. I would be far more interested in he cost of ‘Yes’ leaflets which never got delivered because those available to deliver them were so appalled by their lack of quality in content, design and printing. To get all three so wrong was a fantastic achievement.

  • Martin Pierce 21st Jun '11 - 3:54pm

    The obvious question – given each side had a right to send at least one Freepost to everyone, is why the Yes campaign only sent out 8m! (Oh, and when they did, like the one I received, only printed on one side and did it in the form of a texty letter signed by the unknown to the piblic Katie Ghose). I’m afraid all I read from this is another example of the No campaign’s absolute superiority in campaigning ability. Which was a shame really given it’s the only time I’m ever likely to be asked my opinion on electoral reform in my lifetime (I’m 47)

  • @Rich I’m having difficulty understanding the sour grapes on this. Yes could have sent out 40 million leaflets free if they had had anyone competent in the publicity side of things. The Lib Dems will be able to send out 40 million leaflets free at the next General Election. That’s how we do these things; everyone in an election gets one freepost. It’s not waste.

  • “I’m having difficulty understanding the people who themselves are failing to understand the No campaigns hypocrisy on this.”

    No doubt they would argue that they were incurring a relatively small expenditure to prevent a much larger one in the long run. As political hypocrisy goes, it’s pretty unspectacular stuff.

    It’s the revelation about the “Yes” campaign that is astonishing. They weren’t organised enough to produce freepost leaflets for more than a THIRD of the households in the country? That’s amazing, considering the number of fringe candidates that manage it at general elections.

  • Okay, thanks everyone for taking the time to read my post and comment on it. I’ll try to respond to everyone, one-by-one.
    @Paul Perrin: I’ll have to disagree. I am certain that if we’d got more leaflets delivered free thanks to the freepost we’d have got a higher vote share. Would we have won? Probably not because of a whole host of other defects in the way we fought the campaign, but it was important.
    @g: I think you’re a little premature in saying the post mortem of the campaign is all done & dusted. I think the facts I’ve unearthed do help to reinforce the criticism that the Yes campaign didn’t make best use of a free delivery service being offered to it… in fact in the early days those of us who believed in the value of literature had to push to get any leaflets at all!
    @Duncan Stott: I think the whole experience should inform any future referendum; what about, for example, an panel of experts as objective and/or balanced as possible, who have to agree that leaflets are relevant, honest and factually correct?
    @neil bradbury: You might not think it’s much of a story, but it’s currently the second most read post on here, and has been, at the time I write this, been tweeted about 120 times.
    @peebee: You bet it’s sour grapes. I am very sour and bitter about the campaign. When your opponent makes up “facts” and suggests you’re happy to see babies and soldiers die and then wins, it’s more than a bit annoying.
    @Dave Page: You seem to arguing that introducing facts to back up an argument is somehow bad… I don’t agree, for reasons that shld be obvious.
    @Sid Cumberland & @Foregone Conclusion: Yes, I too had a giggle at @g’s faith that only a Labour Government will bring in real voting reform. His faith must derive from the total support amongst Labour MPs for AV… oh, hang on…
    @G-Money: You may have a point.
    @Simon McGrath: Err, not sure I said they were un-entitled to use it, nor did I say that Yes shldn’t have done the same. My point was that they boasted about how much they cared about protecting public money, yes saw fit to burn through it.
    @jedibeeftrix: I’d have preferred not to have a referendum too; the people who caused it (and therefore the people who caused the multimillion-pound price tag for it) were the Conservatives. Next!
    @David from Ealing: I agree.
    @Martin Pierce: I agree with you, too.
    @Rich: thank you, sir… sometimes one does wonder!
    @Parasite: [read again what Rich had to say and spend time understanding it]

  • Ok Stuart, I’ll wait until the next General Election and see if, on principle, the Lib Dems don’t take up their Freepost mail. (Ha!)

    Get over it, move on, learn the lessons.

  • “I’d have preferred not to have a referendum too; the people who caused it (and therefore the people who caused the multimillion-pound price tag for it) were the Conservatives.”

    What? You’d have preferred to impose electoral reform rather than letting the people decide? Remarkable.

  • @peebee – If you do then in my defence I will repeat this sentence from my original post: “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.”

  • @Rich: “The comments have certainly showed (sic) how badly people process information.”
    I should say! One of the most important outcomes of any enquiry into the ‘Yes To Fairer Votes’ campaign would have to examine how a crucial mistake was made for which the organisers have yet to apolgize and to explain: namely the refusal to take advantage of the Royal Mail’s free delivery of their leaflet to every registered household in the UK.
    @Simon McGrath: “Utterly irrelavant (sic) nonsense. No were totally entitled to use Freepost.”
    This comment from someone whose own opinion piece on the same site last month was entitled “we need an enquiry in the AV referendum” and whose appeal to Tim Farron seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

    It’s not backward looking, petty or spiteful (extraordinary claims made here) to comment on how one campaign destroyed another by costing the country millions more pounds than it was accusing its opponents of spending.
    It’s just sad that some contributors seem to dismiss this information as inconsequential, whilst others blithely assume that the public are aware the ‘No’ campaign told such lies about the cost and consequences of a ‘Yes’ vote. The latter might try bringing these findings to the attention of the Daily Mail and see if the “hypocrite” headline reserved for the Lib Dems could be used with real justification about this £6.7 million figure.

  • I cannot stand the nasty people who ran the ‘No’ campaign.. I cannot, either, see any hypocrisy in this spending.

    I do think the ‘Yes’ Campaign’s gross incompetence, and the incompetence of allowing this referendum to take place this year, might be usefully looked at and that this is a more constructive use of any Liberal Democrats’ time (since these are things done by OUR side which we might potentially find ways of not repeating) than bleating about the opposition spending the money they were allowed to spend (by legislation which WE agreed with). Chances of the Lib Dems doing any such thing?

  • Darren Johnson AM 23rd Jun '11 - 2:23pm

    The No campaign should not be critcised for using the freepost facility. It’s what any sensible group of people would do as part of running a successful election campaign. Shame that there was no Yes freepost.

  • Darren – It isn’t….and the failure of the ‘Yes’ campaign to use Freepost has been made here. It’s the hypocrisy of the ‘No’ campaign’s relentless emphasis on cost whilst trumpeting a zero sum to the taxpayer message on the front of their leaflet that has deservedly drawn criticism here.

  • Conservative 24th Jun '11 - 2:24pm

    so if I understand the article correctly the TPA saved the public £243.3 every general election by using the freepost to defeat the yes campaign…? That is a bargain!

  • Stuart

    An interesting post, but even so it doesn’t detract from the utter incompetence of the Yes campaign (Katie Ghose isn’t fit to run a cake stand, never mind the Electoral Reform Society).

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