This week, the first campaign leaflets started coming through for the Borough Council Elections, and, more interestingly, the voting system referendum. One of the Conservative “newsletters” featured this eye-catching cartoon, headlined “A.V. = A Permanent Cleggocracy”. I was immediately sceptical, but the more I looked at it, the more I realised how utterly wrong this cartoon is.
Firstly, let’s summarise this cartoon: “Cleggocracy” is depicted as a Frankenstein’s monster, with Cameron, Milliband, and someone I don’t recognise in the pocket of a giant Nick Clegg. The message is that if we say Yes to AV, you’ll get messy, unpopular, Lib Dem coalition governments; if we say No, our proud democratic traditions will survive, and next time we’ll be sensible and vote the Tories in properly. At least, I think that’s what it’s trying to say…
Student Fee Rises are Clegg’s Fault
This is what first caught my eye: among the discarded sheets of paper (why are they discarded and torn anyway?) representing the policies the “Cleggocracy” of AV will bring in is “More Student Fees Rises”. So, according to this cartoon a strong Tory government would not have raised fees – that’s Clegg’s fault for forcing a coalition on them, and something we can expect more of under AV. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that exactly the opposite of true?
Parliamentary Democracy requires a Strong Government
The next thing I found myself questioning was the gravestone, which is labelled “Parliamentary Democracy R.I.P. 2011”. Now, the rest of the cartoon appears to be arguing that what this country needs is a strong, Tory, government, and none of this namby-pamby coalition guff. So why is Parliamentary Democracy, which surely implies consensus and compromise, being mourned? Presumably, this has slipped in from a different cartoon, about the perils of electing a government by Proportional Representation – a very different question, and not one being asked by this referendum.
The piece of paper that makes least sense to me is the one on the far right, which is headed “Ramsay MacDonald Supported AV, 1931 – THAT SAYS IT ALL!” Does it? Personally, I know nothing about Ramsay MacDonald, or the politics of 1931 – like most voters, I wasn’t born at the time – and I’m not sure I need or want to.
Of course, the cheap tit for tat response would be “Nick Griffin Opposes AV – That Says It All!”. Oh, and Mussolini made the trains run on time. Sorry, what were we talking about again?
Loathed Lib Dems
The Nick Clegg monster in the cartoon is holding a book titled “Policies the British People Loathe” – clearly everyone reading the cartoon is assumed to vote Tory, and loathe the Lib Dems. This leaflet was distributed in Eastbourne, which has indeed had Tory MPs for 98 of the last 100 years; and the County Council is under Conservative control.
But at the 2010 general election, the Lib Dem candidate took the seat, with 47% of the vote. And the Borough Council ward of Old Town, to which this leaflet was targeted, is currently represented entirely by Lib Dem councillors, and has been even under Conservative majorities. So who exactly are the staunch Tory-supporting Lib Dem-loathing voters being targeted here?
Can you have a Positive No Campaign?
This cartoon may not be as disingenuous as the notorious “vote no or the baby gets it” posters, but it doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. In the software world, companies like Microsoft are often accused of using “FUD” to discredit their competitors – not outright lies, nothing that could easily be called libellous, but enough to spread Fear, Uncertainty, & Doubt. Notably, FUD works best if you are trying to maintain the status quo, as people’s natural fear of change acts in your favour. But it does rather suggest a lack of confidence in your own advantages.
So, philosophical question time: Is negative campaigning inevitable if you are campaigning for a No vote in a referendum?
PS: Somebody posted this cartoon of a filled-out AV ballot paper on Twitter. It makes no sense, because you don’t have to rank every candidate. So in reality, it would look more like this (with and without AV). Either the person that made that cartoon didn’t understand how AV works, or it’s more FUD.