James Graham's article and the response from Simon McGrath about the failure of the AV campaign have been illuminating. I did actually wonder how a campaign with such experienced campaigners in it as James and others I know could be such poor quality and such an embarrassing failure. I was a very reluctant late convert to the AV cause. I had been impressed by the intellectual content of the Lib Dem conference launch with Art Malik and by the initial enthusiasm of the political and non-party activists. Grassroots activist stunts in Westminster, London, Manchester, Bristol all set the calls for reform off to a flying start. I was astounded that I couldn't even download a useable printable poster from the website (not a useable window bill, fine as A3 if low impact), nor did attempts to use clickable buttons for Facebook work. (I agree with Simon that celebrities on Twitter do not win elections but if one click would have helped a little I was happy to click). On a more fundamental level in terms of message, and the principle of the campaign I was both astounded and horrified that the No campaign explained the AV system more effectively in its literature than the Yes campaign did. The No campaign presumably did this quite deliberately as they thought it would put people off but it was still astounding they actually explained the system better than the team in favour of it. The worst failing showed either a lack of understanding of arguments for a fairer system or a complete lack of practical understanding about how voting systems work. Every explanation of STV that the ERS and used to produce included a simple and convincing explanation that any member of a trade union, a student union or of a charity like Amnesty or Liberty used a 1,2,3 voting system. Millions of voters use or have used the equivalent of AV. I couldn't understand why this core message was ignored. I disagree with Simon in that celebrity endorsements could help a lot, Billy Bragg is a leading reformer of our era, Eddie Izard and Dan Snow appealing for the comedy and thinking tv audience, but the failure to use mock elections that James mentions is beyond belief. It would have got media and young people and their families involved and has always helped the lesser known liberal cause in schools and among students. I learnt most about AV from the debate in the letters page of the Times, and was convinced by the pro-historian response to the Antis. It is a shame that all members of the public didn't get this level of informed debate.
The referendum was hampered by the big cash spending on the dishonest No campaign – the public conniving in their own being deceived by tax exiles – and by the rigged leaflet of the Electoral Commission. I don't know how the Yes campaign let that pass without any apparent fuss but there we go. There was no need for a factual leaflet on the referendum to explain how a voting system worked (7 pages) – it only needed to explain what voters did and the result. Surely the first past the post explanation from the Commission should have explained how the counting process worked by analogy. The public money might have been better spent on posting every household a copy of the letters pages of the Times. The whingeing from MPs that they should not have been slagged off is pathetic – a huge number of MPs were complicit in fraud on a large scale; like Nick Clegg as a poster boy of broken new politics, they were not generally good adverts for reform. The battle seemed lost despite idealist enthusiasm among some on the ground. (I was impressed by the group, of I guess Labour and non-party activists, out leafleting in Golders Green for example). Avaaz tried to help in Britain as they do around the World. Most embarrassing for me in Liverpool was the continual parochialism of the Liverpool party. Despite efforts by some key councillors, including current leader Paula Keaveney, there was nothing in support of the referendum in the Liberal Democrat election campaign in Liverpool. An obsession with local council seats meant the referendum was hidden and there was no opportunity for us to expose the anti-reform hypocrisy of most of the Labour Party to their public. Excluding Stephen Twigg and a few key councillors, Labour opposed reform, including both old Labour and the new Labour careerist MPs. Luciana Berger (Wavertree) could not even make up her mind; it is still not clear which side she was on. The Liberal Democrats here were going to get decimated in Council seats due to Nick Clegg's u-turn on tuition fees, irrational hostility to the Coalition (as if Labour made a better offer), and the City Council group's incessant infighting and out of touch prima donna attitude among now former leading figures. It was embarrassing to see Liberals in Gladstone's city failing to make the case for reform. (A few honourable exceptions). It is good that James Gurling is carrying out a review nationally. Local Liberal Democrats need to think about their own priorities too.