How TO run a referendum campaign, and win

Hat tip to Conservative Home for this exceptionally interesting account of the inside story behind the "No" campaign for the AV referendum, and why they won.

Key points

1) After being convinced that a Yes vote would endanger his relationship with his parliamentary party David Cameron gave the order to fight the campaign with all available resources.

2) AV could only be defeated if a large number of Labour supporters voted to keep First Past The Post and from the earliest days of the campaign huge efforts were made to ensure the No campaign was genuinely cross-party

3) One consequence of this was that, although David Cameron would have preferred not to have had the "No" campaign target Nick Clegg in the way that they did, to keep the Labour "No" people onside there had to be an arms length relationship between the Tory leadership and the No campaign. This meant Cameron was unable to stop them from taking advantage of how politically toxic Nick Clegg and his broken promises are at the moment by ruthlessly (and effectively) exploiting that unpopularity to get a "No" vote.

4) The pundits scoffed at the No campaign’s argument that AV was costly and complicated but market research suggested that these were the right messages and the Westminster bubble’s desire for a more sophisticated campaign was rightly ignored

5) A massive Get Out The Vote operation by CCHQ saw the Tory vote harden decisively during the campaign. (I have seen it suggested that this saved 500 Conservative councillors as well as helping with the "No" result.)

6) The No campaign also worked hard from day one to expose the Yes campaign’s funding and its attempts to enlist charities in support of AV.

From the point of view of the future of the coalition, that third point is the most interesting, and Conservative Home gives more information on that point here.

It is not surprising that the Lib/Dems were angry that a campaign which their coalition partners were funding should have attacked the Lib/Dem leader in the way that the "No" campaign did, nor that they should have asked Conservative Campaign Centre to call the dogs off Clegg.

In fact, according to Conservative Home, Downing Street and Tory HQ repeatedly made precisedly that request of the "No" campaign - but the "Labour Says No" team within the "No" campaign managed to block the request. In ConHome's words

"Putting Clegg on the literature produced some of the biggest tensions within the No team. Conservative HQ repeatedly asked that photographs of their Coalition partner be removed from literature. Ryan, Kennedy and the other Labour leaders of the No campaign insisted that the images of the Deputy Prime Minister - and the language of broken promises - stayed. In a game of brinkmanship, the Labour Says No team threatened to pull the plug on the whole campaign if Clegg was off limits. The red half of the campaign knew that the targeting of the Liberal Democrat leader was essential if the Labour vote was to turn out and to vote no."

You can read the full article from the chapter headings here.


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