David Gold is a political and sports writer.
We all have secrets from our youth that we want to hide. Mine is that I once, shamefully, worked for Unlock Democracy, as a result of which I have been receiving their “Vote Yes” propaganda for the best part of a year. Today I stopped pressing delete and in a moment of procrastination, opted to read what they had to say for themselves.
“We've got a "Get Out The Vote" strategy to match whatever No2AV have got planned, but we don't have their big-money backers," it said.
Immediately I clicked unsubscribe, and was asked whether I had a comment to add. Why, yes I did. Did they not think it ironic that they are claiming to not have big money donors, when the Electoral Reform Society and Joseph Rowntree Trust are providing £1 million apiece to the Yes campaign? Particularly given that the largest donation to the No cause has actually been a comparatively paltry £400,000. This can be only an act of ignorance or put simply, lying.
Politics would not be politics if we didn’t have the odd u-turn on tuition fees now and again, and admittedly, I’ve not been bothered whether or not the No campaign have been similarly dishonest. Double standards on my part? Yes, but not without good reason.
That reason is that all I’ve heard for about a week is how upset the Lib Dems are that their coalition partners from the No campaign have been publicising lies. Chris Huhne was practically crying on our TV screens the other day for Ofcom to save him and his party from the nasty, pernicious supposed lies of George Osborne. Given their principled defiance in the face of typical political dishonesty, I thought I’d hold them to a higher standard than their “less principled” rivals.
Worse, the Yes campaign lies whilst simultaneously campaigning to restore honour to politics, to clean it up. Yet they have turned this referendum from a low key debate about a genuine issue of electoral reform into a highly personal and partisan campaign. It seems like desperation from a party which appears from the outside to in the midst of self-implosion, with the careful Hughes-Clegg balancing act at the head of the party’s power structure looking increasingly precarious.
The Yes campaign appears to be realising that the game is up, and concentrating on the facts plainly is not working. The electorate, as Alan Johnson rightly reminds us, is not stupid. As the proportion of voters who are “informed” about AV increases in recent days, so has the lead for the No campaign. It is therefore unsurprising that the Liberal Democrats and Labour Yes campaginers are turning the referendum into a personal, issue free debate, rather than focusing on the merits of their argument. They have increasingly opted for the “why not punch the Conservatives in the face” tactic to lure crucial Labour swing voters to their cause. Again, not exactly uncommon in politics to campaign negatively in such a way, but this is a campaign which is trying to introduce a system in part because they say it will put an end to negative campaigning.
I can just about take Sarah Teather telling us that AV doesn’t devalue “one person, one vote” by using an analogy about wanting a Mars bar but getting a Twix meaning you still only get one chocolate bar (when incidentally, a more apt comparison would be sending 1,000 people into a shop to buy a chocolate bar each, and not all being able to have their first choice – elections are about solving disputes between multiple people, buying confectionery is an individual decision). It may be treating the electorate with intellectual disdain, but it is not malicious. On the other hand, the campaign’s behaviour is becoming increasingly spiteful and unprincipled.
The No campaign may have lied about the cost of voting machines for all I know, and I care not for defending them if they did. But they didn’t claim to be whiter than white. All respectability, as well as the Yes campaign’s hopes of winning the referendum, go out of the window when they start indulging in precisely the same sort of politics which they are so vigorously fighting against.