The electoral reform campaign: who’s who?

The key players to look out for during the campaign.

The electoral reform referendum may not be until May (or September, if the Tory rebels and Labour succeed in delaying it), but both sides of the campaign have already got their key players in place.

The No camp recently announced the appointment of Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the ruthlessly effective Taxpayers' Alliance, as its head. On the Yes side Katie Ghose, the new chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, will be a key figure.

Here's whom to look out for during the campaign (the No side is rather more colourful, as things stand).

The No Campaign

The head

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Taxpayers' Alliance, has a record as a highly effective and ruthless campaigner. He has already faced accusations of using dirty tricks: it was revealed yesterday that he has registered the Yes2AV.org domain name.

On AV, he has commented: "I am keen that power is shifted from parliament to the people, but the 'Alternative Vote' system would give people less control over the laws which govern their lives. Prescribing the wrong medicine doesn't make patients better, it makes them worse."

The paymaster

Lord (Rodney) Leach, a Conservative life peer and former chairman of the anti-euro Business for Sterling pressure group, has emerged as the key fundraiser for the No side and was responsible for Elliott's appointment. Leach, who helped fund David Cameron's office before he became Tory leader, was installed by No 10 to ensure that the No campaign would avoid personal attacks on Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems.

Of Elliott, he said: "What I like about Matthew is that he's not a gun for hire. He's that rare combination of someone who not only believes passionately in what he's fighting for, but is also an extremely successful campaigner. Campaigning against the 'Alternative Vote' system is a natural extension of his fight for greater accountability and transparency in politics."

The organiser

Charlotte Vere, the unsuccessful Tory candidate for Brighton Pavilion at the last election, describes herself as the "national organiser" of the No campaign.

The Yes Campaign

James Graham, campaign manager of Unlock Democracy (which incorporates the famed Charter 88), has pledged that the pro-AV campaign will not be "Lib Dem-led", denying rumours that it will be run out of the party's Cowley Street HQ.

He says: "We are quite conscious [sic] that the campaign isn't perceived to be a Lib Dem campaign. There is an attempt to tar it as that." He is likely to be a key presence at the official launch of the Yes campaign on the weekend of 4 September.

Katie Ghose, whose appointment as the new chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society was announced yesterday, has promised to help lead the campaign "to deliver a historic victory for political reform and for British voters".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leave will leap on the immigration rise, but Brexit would not make much difference

Non-EU migration is still well above the immigration cap, which the government is still far from reaching. 

On announcing the quarterly migration figures today, the Office for National Statistics was clear: neither the change in immigration levels, nor in emigration levels, nor in the net figure is statistically significant. That will not stop them being mined for political significance.

The ONS reports a 20,000 rise in net long-term international migration to 333,000. This is fuelled by a reduction in emigration: immigration itself is actually down very slightly (by 2,000) on the year ending in 2014, but emigration has fallen further – by 22,000.

So here is the (limited) short-term significance of that. The Leave campaign has already decided to pivot to immigration for the final month of the referendum campaign. Arguments about the NHS, about sovereignty, and about the bloated bureaucracy in Brussels have all had some utility with different constituencies. But none has as much purchase, especially amongst persuadable Labour voters in the north, as immigration. So the Leave campaign will keep talking about immigration and borders for a month, and hope that a renewed refugee crisis will for enough people turn a latent fear into a present threat.

These statistics make adopting that theme a little bit easier. While it has long been accepted by everyone except David Cameron and Theresa May that the government’s desired net immigration cap of 100,000 per year is unattainable, watch out for Brexiters using these figures as proof that it is the EU that denies the government the ability to meet it.

But there are plenty of available avenues for the Remain campaign to push back against such arguments. Firstly, they will point out that this is a net figure. Sure, freedom of movement means the British government does not have a say over EU nationals arriving here, but it is not Jean-Claude Juncker’s fault if people who live in the UK decide they quite like it here.

Moreover, the only statistically significant change the ONS identify is a 42 per cent rise in migrants coming to the UK “looking for work” – hardly signalling the benefit tourism of caricature. And though that cohort did not come with jobs, the majority (58 per cent) of the 308,000 migrants who came to Britain to work in 2015 had a definite job to go to.

The Remain campaign may also point out that the 241,000 short-term migrants to the UK in the year ending June 2014 were far outstripped by the 420,000 Brits working abroad. Brexit, and any end to freedom of movement that it entailed, could jeopardise many of those jobs for Brits.

There is another story that the Remain campaign should make use of. Yes, the immigration cap is a joke. But it has not (just) been made into a joke by the EU. Net migration from non-EU countries is at 188,000, a very slight fall from the previous year but still higher than immigration from EU countries. That alone is far above the government’s immigration cap. If the government cannot bring down non-EU migration, then the Leave argument that a post-EU Britain would be a low-immigration panacea is hardly credible. Don’t expect that to stop them making it though. 

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.