So we (the Yes campaign) lost. We lost big time. Just like at the General Election last year – the Lib Dems – the main impetus behind the Yes campaign – saw their good performance early in the polls scrubed out by the time the country goes to the polls. This shows us three things. Firstly that they do not campaign well. Secondly that their support is the softest and thirdly people deep down do not like change.
So how does this translate to political reform in the future?
Firstly whilst most political commentators are speculating that political reform is done and dusted for a generation. I do not agree with this. A generation is what 20-25 years and that is an awfully long time. If we roll forward four years and yet again neither Labour or the Conservative Party are able to win a majority in the House of Commons then the No rhetoric of AV leads to more coalitions or minority governments will fall on deaf ears. Two non-majority governments in a row under FPTP would render that moot.
Secondly according to people on the doorstep they were voting against the Lib Dems in the locals and No on AV squarely as a protest vote against Nick Clegg. Multiple people are reporting that the number one issue on the doorstep was tuition fees – which is hilarious but it is true. So therefore people cannot at this point forgive Clegg for going back on his word for abolishing tuition fees should he become Prime Minister. The fact that he didn’t isn’t important. The public prefer lies and rhetoric to factual accuracy it seems.
However look back eight years now and the #1 topic on the doorstep was the Iraq War. The Iraq War is now not an issue. The people that took this country into that conflict are not in power any more. The PM is gone and that political party have a new management in charge therefore people don’t care too much.
So should the Lib Dems have new management in a decade people will not care about what happened in 2010. The electorate have short memories. Nick Clegg is a good man doing a very difficult job under pretty harsh circumstances but long-term that issue on the doorstep will be gone at some point.
Thirdly the Yes campaign were politically naive (as were the Lib Dems in 2010) and they need to evolve. The No campaign knew that to win all they had to do was spread a few lies, be negative and rely on their right-wing media to enforce their campaign. Negative politics is disgusting and horrible but it is mightily effective. George Bush won a second-term in the USA purely running a campaign on ‘if you vote for the democrats then terrorists will break into your house and night and kill you and your loved ones. That was the crux of his campaign and it worked.
For those not engaged with politics and don’t care too much but do vote then negative headline making will have a significant impact. Those in favour of political reform and the Lib Dems themselves must learn this.
So lets look ten years down the line at what are realistic scenarios. Firstly Nick Clegg is now either a backbencher or out of UK politics altogether. That removes the trust issue for many. Secondly we have had another coalition government of some form. That removes the ‘FPTP doesn’t provide coalitions often’ line. Thirdly the Green Party and/or UKIP have made more inrodes in terms of the national vote if not seats. Fourthly yet another few millions people have passed on who are staunchly Red or Blue and vote. With young people getting involved in politics being split far more than the oldest generation then they’ll have a bigger appetite for a fairer political voting system and fifthly it won’t be AV on the ballot – it will be STV or PR the country are voting on.
We all knew AV was not perfect but it was better than FPTP. If the country went to the polls on another system that was easier to understand (not that AV wasn’t easy but the media made a huge deal about how it wasn’t and scared many people who thought they would be forced to vote for the BNP as a preference) then they would have a much bigger chance of winning. Under STV then everyone would have their second preference counted if needs be and under PR then everyone knows the House of Commons would accurately represent the wishes of the electorate.
Fairer votes for all isn’t consigned to the annals of time for most of us. It will come up again and it might not be that far away. When it does though the Yes to change team will have to learn from their No counterparts on how to win an election. Until they do that then FPTP is here to stay.
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