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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Benn vs McDonnell: how Brexit has exposed the fight over Labour's party machine

In the wake of Brexit, should Labour MPs listen more closely to voters, or their own party members?

Two Labour MPs on primetime TV. Two prominent politicians ruling themselves out of a Labour leadership contest. But that was as far as the similarity went.

Hilary Benn was speaking hours after he resigned - or was sacked - from the Shadow Cabinet. He described Jeremy Corbyn as a "good and decent man" but not a leader.

Framing his overnight removal as a matter of conscience, Benn told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "I no longer have confidence in him [Corbyn] and I think the right thing to do would be for him to take that decision."

In Benn's view, diehard leftie pin ups do not go down well in the real world, or on the ballot papers of middle England. 

But while Benn may be drawing on a New Labour truism, this in turn rests on the assumption that voters matter more than the party members when it comes to winning elections.

That assumption was contested moments later by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Dismissive of the personal appeal of Shadow Cabinet ministers - "we can replace them" - McDonnell's message was that Labour under Corbyn had rejuvenated its electoral machine.

Pointing to success in by-elections and the London mayoral election, McDonnell warned would-be rebels: "Who is sovereign in our party? The people who are soverign are the party members. 

"I'm saying respect the party members. And in that way we can hold together and win the next election."

Indeed, nearly a year on from Corbyn's surprise election to the Labour leadership, it is worth remembering he captured nearly 60% of the 400,000 votes cast. Momentum, the grassroots organisation formed in the wake of his success, now has more than 50 branches around the country.

Come the next election, it will be these grassroots members who will knock on doors, hand out leaflets and perhaps even threaten to deselect MPs.

The question for wavering Labour MPs will be whether what they trust more - their own connection with voters, or this potentially unbiddable party machine.