Opinion: we need an enquiry in the AV referendum

The Yes 2 AV campaign was a disaster. It was the worst managed political campaign since Michael Foot’s General Election campaign in 1983 and it probably means we will not be able to have electoral reform for many years.

There seems to be a growing tendency simply to ascribe our defeat simply to the lies of the No campaign but that would be too easy and in any case lies are hardly unknown in political campaigns. There seem to have been failures in the Yes campaign; from the highest level – formulating a coherent narrative about the need for change – to tactical issues such as the digital strategy and poor leaflets. Fundamentally the assumption that there was a natural ‘progressive’ majority that could easily be mobilised seems to have been misguided.

The failure of this campaign has implications for the way our Party campaigns in future –not just on electoral reform, but much more broadly (our opponents will certainly have learned the lessons of their success). I would like to think that the Party will learn the lessons but the way in which there was no proper examination of our relative failure in the 2010 General Election campaign does not give me much confidence that we will.

I was particularly concerned to read that one of the Yes campaign staff believes that people are afraid to speak out about what went wrong for fear of jeopardising their future job prospects.

The Federal Executive should organise an immediate, independent and impartial review of the campaign with an enquiry team composed of people who would command respect across the Party – excluding those with any responsibility for the Campaign (although their evidence would be very valuable). It may be that this could be done in conjunction with the ERS and some of the other Groups in the Yes campaign but the primary purpose should be to identify the lessons for our Party

I have written to Lib Dem President Tim Farron asking him to support this. I hope Party members will support this idea and ask Tim and other Federal Executive members to support an independent enquiry. It needs to start soon – before memories start to fade.

In the meantime I have put together a website which contains some of the material used in the campaign and links to some of the many pieces which have been written to explain the results – those from people working in the two campaigns are particularly interesting. It can be found at www.whywelostav.com

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • No we dont. The last thing we should be doing is looking back. We have HoL reform & STV to campaign for, lets get on with them.

  • Paul, if we don’t figure out where we went wrong this time, future campaigns will be just as disastrous. Sticking our heads in the sand isn’t going to do the trick.

  • The FE didn’t have the capacity to review the parties own General Election campaign properly. How can they review the actions of people who have nothing to do with the party?

  • I have little doubt that many ‘experts’ will be examining this very question and will probably provide with an unbiased answer. Personally I think we blew it.

  • The yes campaign was pitiful, to be honest, and wasn’t prepared for rough stuff. It won’t do to be seen to be crying over whet the nasty men did! Learn lessons, fine, but also move on.

    What is really clear is that the people can’t rely on politicians to fix a broken system. I suggest energy goes into establishing a reformist force majeur, outside of Parliament, such as the Scottish Convention, which politicians can’t amend for party political purposes, or seek to control.

  • The point is that we will never run another campaign like this again so any “lessons” learnt would be useless. There will be lots of Post Mortems anyway & I can safely predict that lots of people will blame other people. Some Labour bloggers have already started, blaming us. Lets move on before we get sucked in.

  • Why we (in the AV camp) lost?

    Every time someone stood up and said “AV means no more right wing governments – ever” we alienated the 20% of hard core tory voters and the 30% – 40% who would vote for a tory government under certain circumstances.

  • Tony Dawson 21st May '11 - 1:40pm

    “The point is that we will never run another campaign like this again so any “lessons” learnt would be useless.”

    This comment would appear to come from someone who’s never managed a campaign. The lessons to be learned about the AV campaign are to do with how it was set up, structured, monitored, policy laid down etc – the actual ‘selling of the AV message’ is only a pretty small part of it. And I would suggest there is quite a bit to be learned overlapping with our own poor 2010 national GE campaign which needs to be looked at at the same time.

    Since the Party staff need to be deployed towards specific ends and policies and the specific ends and policies do not yet appear to have been reviewed, by competent people not involved directly in the ‘provision’ to date, then any suggestion of major ‘shake-ups’ in the Party staff prior to such a review do not seem at all sensible.

  • Hove Howard 21st May '11 - 3:00pm

    As AV is not necessarily any more proportional than FPTP, it was impossible to make a ‘moral force’ argument for it, or to highlight the iniquities of the present system and hold out the hope to voters of something better.

    The campaign was therefore doomed from the start, and any enquiry should therefore be into why anyone thought that this was an acceptable coalition concession. I said this last summer, before I shredded my LD membership card

    I did haul myself out to drop a few leaflets for the ‘yes’ campaign nonetheless. They were pretty lame, but how could they have been anything else?

  • Simon McGrath 21st May '11 - 6:58pm

    Paul – I disagree. I think there is a real danger that what gets remembered is that the other side lied and therefore we lost. It was much much more than that and we need a way to capture the lessons for future campaigns.

    Tony ‘s point captures this very well.

  • There does need to be a reality check somewhere. The truth is that while both campaigns were terrible and both contained outright lies, the public did not really vote against AV due to that. I believe the voted against it because they could see that even the Yes campaign were not really for AV. Anyone who looked under the shallow surface of the campaigns, for example someone doing a Google search and ending up here, would have seen that few people were pro AV as an end in itself.

    Have a look back at some of the threads and see how many people talked about it being a stepping stone to a more proportional system. Clegg was haunted by the “miserable little compromise” comment, and the ERS had removed sections of their web site that (accurately) told of the problems with AV. There was more than a little of the debating society feel about it, where you are chosen to defend something you don’t believe in.

    Proportionality not preference would have been easier to sell, probably more so than STV with it’s elements of both. Everyone who votes for someone other than the FPTP winner would be able to see their vote count in a proportional system. That’s a huge amount of votes from all parties supporters that can be convinced, even where their parties are against it.

    The campaign was rubbish, there should be acknowledgement of that and lessons learnt, but it wasn’t as rubbish as the system it was trying to sell. You just can’t polish a turd !!!

  • Paul, congratulations on the blog. I was the organiser for central Kent and was appalled by just about every aspect of the national Yes campaign. It is important we spend the next few months learning what went wrong so that we get the basics right in any future referendum on PR. I too have been collating various articles on why we lost and will let you know of any you may have missed.

  • Simon McGrath 22nd May '11 - 8:47am

    Ralph , If you have anything you wish added to the blog please let me know [email protected]

  • I suggest a good starting point would be not to listen to someone that removes perfectly polite and reasoned comments, and the people that post them, from their facebook page, (Simon McGrath’s vote clegg, get clegg page), simply because he doesn’t like people that disagree with him and provide evidence ot back up arguments.

    As for AV – it was always going to be a tough sell, but the electorate needed to be convinced that increased plurality, with a greater likelihood of coalition government, would enable their views to be better represented in parliament. Given the widespread dissatisfaction with the coalition and the (well founded) view of a large section of voters that theLib Dems have treated their voters with utter contempt, by ditching key election promises and enabling a tory government that is to the right of their own election campaign, then it’s hardly surprising that AV was slaughtered.

    To set up an enquiry (to find individuals/groups to blame) for the lost opportunity, smacks of utter delusion.

  • “As for AV – it was always going to be a tough sell,”

    What evidence is there that it was ever ‘sold’ by the YES \campaign, let alone sold well?

  • Simon McGrath 22nd May '11 - 3:52pm

    @Sarah, I haven’t removed any of your comments from my facebook page

  • In that case I apologise, Simon. It must be someone else that’s banned me from posting and removed all my comments.

  • Conner Smith 25th May '11 - 8:04am

    the was only our party, 1/3 of the labour party and a few minor partys including greens and liberals who supported the yes campaign.
    Thats why we lost, we didnt have the activists to sell it.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Peter Martin
    The 'country before party' argument is trite to put it mildly. When the young Keir Starmer first joined the Labour Party he would have considered that the p...
  • Thelma Davies
    As pointed out , family is the most important driver of outcomes. Sadly too many on the left refuse to look at the evidence and confront hard truths....
  • Tom Harney
    There is a high correlation between poverty - measured by registration for free school meals - and exam results at 16. The reason for choosing these measures is...
  • David Evans
    The one thing that unites both Labour and Conservative is the pretense that there is a "Special Relationship" between the British Government and that in the US....
  • David Garlick
    It is beyond question that prevention is better, and cheaper, than cure. If we get that and start looking after our young families now it can be productive rel...