“No campaign used made-up figures”, says David Blunkett

The former home secretary admits that the £250m figure was invented, as coalition tensions run high.

 

By tomorrow, the AV referendum will be a thing of the past. However, the same cannot be said of the splits it has opened up in the coalition.

Today's Times (£) quotes David Blunkett, the former Labour home secretary, admitting that the No campaign's figure putting the cost of AV at £250m was "made up". He said:

We are in the middle of an election campaign. People in elections use made-up figures. I have never used the £250m figure. It [AV] would undoubtedly cost more but I have used an extra £90m.

Given that the only cost of which we can be certain is the £82m spent on the referendum (as Full Fact reported in April), the figure is even more misleading than Blunkett claims.

This open admission that the figure is "made up" will put fuel on the fire of furious Liberal Democrats. Chris Huhne's anger over the claim that costly electronic voting machines would be introduced even boiled over to cabinet this week, when he challenged David Cameron and George Osborne to disown the claims. And, lest we forget, he threatened legal action last month, saying:

It is frankly worrying if you have colleagues, [whom] you have respected and who you have worked well with, who are making claims which have no foundation in truth whatsoever. If they don't come clean on this I am sure the law courts will.

The Electoral Commission said at the time that it was powerless to do anything, as electoral law covers false claims against candidates, but referendums have none. It will be interesting to see if Huhne finds another way to make good his threat. Either way, Blunkett's comments will add insult to injury, confirming as it does the sense that the No campaign did not play fair. An admission from a senior politician that the campaign – and, by extension, the senior Tories running it – lied is potentially explosive to coalition relations.

Anger in Nick Clegg's party at the way that the No camp directed its campaign will certainly be running high after last-minute polls suggested a resounding defeat for AV. A Guardian/ICM poll gives the No to AV campaign a 36 per cent lead, while a Sun/YouGov survey gives it a 20-point margin.

The Lib Dems are also expected to take a hammering in the local elections happening at the same time.

At the moment, it looks unlikely that anyone within the party will challenge Clegg's leadership after today's drumming – but the door is wide open if anyone should decide to.

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

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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