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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Something is missing from the Brexit debate

Inside Westminster, few seem to have noticed or care about the biggest question mark in the Brexit talks. 

What do we know about the government’s Brexit strategy that we didn’t before? Not much, to be honest.

Theresa May has now said explicitly what her red lines on European law and free movement of labour said implicitly: that Britain is leaving the single market. She hasn’t ruled out continuing payments from Britain to Brussels, but she has said that they won’t be “vast”. (Much of the detail of Britain’s final arrangement is going to depend on what exactly “vast” means.)  We know that security co-operation will, as expected, continue after Brexit.

What is new? It’s Theresa May’s threat to the EU27 that Britain will walk away from a bad deal and exit without one that dominates the British newspapers.

“It's May Way or the Highway” quips City AM“No deal is better than a bad deal” is the Telegraph’s splash, “Give us a deal… or we walk” is the Mirror’s. The Guardian opts for “May’s Brexit threat to Europe”,  and “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed” is the Times’ splash.

The Mail decides to turn the jingoism up to 11 with “Steel of the new Iron Lady” and a cartoon of Theresa May on the white cliffs of Dover stamping on an EU flag. No, really.  The FT goes for the more sedate approach: “May eases Brexit fears but warns UK will walk away from 'bad deal’” is their splash.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The government is coming under fire for David Davis’ remark that even if Parliament rejects the Brexit deal, we will leave anyway. But as far as the Article 50 process is concerned, that is how it works. You either take the deal that emerges from the Article 50 process or have a disorderly exit. There is no process within exiting the European Union for a do-over.  

The government’s threat to Brussels makes sense from a negotiating perspective. It helps the United Kingdom get a better deal if the EU is convinced that the government is willing to suffer damage if the deal isn’t to its liking. But the risk is that the damage is seen as so asymmetric – and while the direct risk for the EU27 is bad, the knock-on effects for the UK are worse – that the threat looks like a bad bluff. Although European leaders have welcomed the greater clarity, Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, has reiterated that their order of priority is to settle the terms of divorce first, agree a transition and move to a wider deal after that, rather than the trade deal with a phased transition that May favours.

That the frontpage of the Irish edition of the Daily Mail says “May is wrong, any deal is better than no deal” should give you an idea of how far the “do what I want or I shoot myself” approach is going to take the UK with the EU27. Even a centre-right newspaper in Britain's closest ally isn't buying that Britain will really walk away from a bad deal. 

Speaking of the Irish papers, there’s a big element to yesterday’s speech that has eluded the British ones: May’s de facto abandonment of the customs union and what that means for the border between the North and the South. “May’s speech indicates Border customs controls likely to return” is the Irish Times’ splash, “Brexit open border plan “an illusion”” is the Irish Independent’s, while “Fears for jobs as ‘hard Brexit’ looms” is the Irish Examiner’s.

There is widespread agreement in Westminster, on both sides of the Irish border and in the European Union that no-one wants a return to the borders of the past. The appetite to find a solution is high on all sides. But as one diplomat reflected to me recently, just because everyone wants to find a solution, doesn’t mean there is one to be found. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.