I’ve just returned from the final No 2 AV rally at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster*. (Inexplicably the Yes rally is at 8.30pm tonight, after most journalists have gone home/to the pub.)
A succession of speakers took to the stage. One was Lord Owen, his lush hair in contrast to the shaved heads of the others – John Healey, Paul Boateng, William Hague - declaring the referendum was an unfortunate “experiment”. The peer revealed that Gordon Brown had offered the LibDems a referendum on PR (Owen’s preference) as well as AV.
Labour’s Healey was quite persuasive, albeit slightly party political, suggesting that Britain should be concentrating on more important issues such as job losses in the NHS.
But it was Hague who stole the show with a masterclass of oratory, mocking “unBritish” AV while praising first-past-the-post as one of Britain’s most memorable gifts to the world.
Our voting system was “often the envy of other countries in the world“, he declared. “Is the US held back by first-past-the-post,” he queried. Did India think it could solve its many problems by adopting the alternative vote, he asked sarcastically?
Even its own proponents had been half-hearted about AV until recently, the foreign secretary said. “It is summed up by its very nature, it is no one’s first choice,” Hague continued.
These are the clear arguments which are cutting through to the still largely apathetic public and explain why No is ahead in the race. (My experience of vox popping people in recent weeks suggests that few people even understand the alternative vote, let alone care).
The No camp’s far-fetched claims about the £250m cost of adopting AV have raised Lib Dem hackles – and caused genuine coalition tensions – but may in fact be a sideshow to the main debate. (Today’s blog by James Forsyth about this morning’s cabinet row over AV is a must-read).
With only three days to go before the plebiscite, the Yes camp’s claims that AV is “fair” and is only a “small change” seem unlikely to get the blood pumping in potential supporters.
* One young man asked if I wanted to wear a green t-shirt with pink stripes and stand behind the speakers. Thanks, but no thanks.
UPDATE: Another link to the Spectator Coffee
Shop House blog**, this time on how even John Humphrys seems confused by AV.
** Coffee House rather. It’s been a long day.