Will the royal wedding create a “Yes mood” for the pro-AV campaign?

The Yes to AV campaign reportedly plans to capitalise on the royal wedding – but this tactic is unli

 

The Yes to AV campaign is planning to capitalise on the royal wedding, which will take place six days before the referendum on changing Britain's voting system.

The Guardian reports today that the Yes campaign will argue that it is "a time to be optimistic and say yes". The paper quotes a source saying:

We will put all the arguments, but around the wedding it will be a coming-into-summer, more optimistic, more of a Yes mood. The no camp will throw everything at us – that is the nature of a No campaign, it will be "if in doubt vote No".

Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding on 29 April – ahead of the referendum on 5 May – has widely been seen as a problem, as the media interest will make it difficult to capture public attention for electoral reform.

According to some estimates, turnout could be as low as 35 per cent. This is more problematic for the Yes campaign, which has to motivate people to go out and vote against the status quo.

Is there any merit in this idea? Psychological research indicates that negative attitudes motivate people to take action more than positive attitudes – meaning that the Yes campaign has a harder mission from the start. An American study looking at the effects of positive versus negative messages in personal mobilisation found that message tone made no difference to voter turnout or favourability.

Rather than dwelling on the royal wedding, the Yes campaign would perhaps be better advised to explore ways of explaining AV to the public. A YouGov poll for the Constitution Society in September found that only 33 per cent said they understood AV; 35 per cent had heard of it but were "not sure how it works", while 32 per cent hadn't heard of it.

And as my colleague George Eaton pointed out, the Yes campaign is struggling to drum up much enthusiastic support, even among its own ranks. Unless these problems are addressed first, a "positive atmosphere" will do little to help.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He was shortlisted as a Labour mayoral candidate in the 2016 London election, and stood as Labour's candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016.