A collaborative blog for Current Affairs and Policy Debate

A cynical take on referendum campaigns

In Constitutional Spotlight, Events, The Media on February 26, 2011 at 5:19 pm

By Sean Wyer

Cross-posted from They Say it so Seriously…

Britain’s first referendum in a while is fast approaching. As you probably know, the one option is AV (alternative vote) as opposed to our current ‘first-past-the-post’ system. In the spirit of being a good citizen, I thought I would make sure I was making the right choice, so I didn’t ruin the country by accident.

I was aware that the referendum isn’t an issue contested by people, but by ideas, so maybe their websites would make me think.

The people campaigning against the alternative vote didn’t really have any ideas. They just talked about loads of irrelevant public-services-related items that people need, such as bullet proof vests and maternity units, which don’t have anything to do with voting systems, but some ‘PR expert’ in an office seems to think we’ll believe them if they say ‘vote yes in the referendum and loads of people will die’ (paraphrased). Which is probably a lie. They also said (also paraphrased) ‘it’s too complicated for normal people to understand’. Which isn’t actually an argument, and succeeds in condescendingly insulting the public’s intelligence.


I thought the other side might be less terrible at convincing me. If you look really hard, you can actually find some information on their site, but it’s obvious they’re pretty much the same as the other guys, just funded by people who will benefit in the future if their side wins, which means they’re basically an advertising campaign. Their website pulls the age old trick of having a war vet talking about democracy, which seems like a desperate move, using ‘selling stunts’ instead of actual politics.


Both sides essentially admit that they don’t have a convincing enough political argument. They make it obvious that the people funding their campaign will enjoy plenty of success (or maintain it) if they win, because both sites have an air of desperation and power-hungry marketing techniques about them.

Don’t know if either side deserves/will get my deciding vote.


  1. I don’t disagree with you.

    Both campaigns aren’t really representing the issue very well. Take Yes to fairer votes; apparently, “If you go to the chip shop, and order cod and chips but they are out of cod, and you choose pie and chips instead, you have still only had one meal”, which means…what exactly? http://www.yestofairervotes.org/pages/av-myths. NotoAV’s insistence on framing this in terms of costs though is really irritating – surely if a different democratic system is better, it’s just worth paying for it?

    In the end though, none of us should be voting on the basis of which side ‘deserves’ our vote – it doesn’t matter which side runs the better campaign. We should vote based on which voting system really is the better system. For myself, it is going to be AV.

  2. This is a really good point to make; that the debate is rather poor. Perhaps they’ll wheel out harder-hitting arguments closer to the election. But here’s another argument: since it is quite clear we don’t care enough about the voting system to think hard about it, why should we be changing it at all, if most people are content with the system and there is no deprivation of rights?

    • “But here’s another argument: since it is quite clear we don’t care enough about the voting system to think hard about it, why should we be changing it at all, if most people are content with the system and there is no deprivation of rights?”

      You’re surely assuming that “we don’t care enough” equates to “most people are content”. I disagree — I think the problem quite possibly stems from a refusal of government to even coutenance changing the basis of a successful two-party system until recently. Even if this isn’t the only cause, it has to be an influential factor.

      In any case, if people really are content, then they’ll turn out to vote for FPTP. If not, it’s evidence that it’s apathy, not contentment.

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