Benjamin Zephaniah “removed” from pro-AV pamphlets

AV campaign hots up after No to AV hint at racism in the Yes to AV campaign.

The AV referendum is drawing nearer and the campaign for and against it is getting dirtier. This weekend No to AV were caught playing fast and loose with the facts about their BNP claims. Yesterday, however, No to AV alleged that the Yes camp had removed the black poet Benjamin Zephaniah from promotional literature outside London because they were "ashamed" of his support.

No to AV have certainly got one thing right. As the New Statesman shows for the first time, Zephaniah is definitely absent from the ones sent to West Sussex, where the cast of supporters is decidedly pasty-faced.

This Yes to Fairer Votes leaflet went out in Ealing:

Ealing

While this one went out in West Sussex.

West Sussex

Yes to Fairer Votes deny the claims. "We have a number of endorsers and we vary the endorsers we use on our leaflets," said a spokesman. "These allegations mark a new low for the No campaign and [its] increasingly desperate smears.

"Let's put it this way: Operation Black Vote, the Muslim Council of Britain and a host of similar groups are backing the Yes campaign. The BNP is backing the No campaign. People can draw their own conclusions."

No to AV, however, are making the most of it. Councillor Terry Paul, spokesman for No to AV, said: "Why are Yes to AV ashamed to have the support of Benjamin Zephaniah in places like Cornwall and Hampshire? The Yes campaign's leaflet offers a chilling preview of politics under the Alternative Vote.

"We have warned that AV would encourage parties to pander to extremist opinions in a chase for second- and third-preference votes, but we never imagined the first example of such outdated views would come from the Yes campaign itself."

Ouch.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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