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27 August 2010

The electoral reform campaign: who’s who?

The key players to look out for during the campaign.

By George Eaton

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

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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.

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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”.