I've recently become convinced that NO is going to win the AV referendum on 5th May. This isn't because of the recent ICM poll showing No with a 16 point lead. While the movement from a narrow Yes lead before Christmas to a strong No lead now is impressive, I place little store in ICM polling on anything because their headline voting intention numbers are ludicrously biased towards the Fib Dems (who poll 15% on ICM but 10% or less with YouGov or other pollsters) and away from Labour (who poll 42-45% on YouGov but 35-37% on ICM). It is quite simple really: the ICM numbers are made up by the Guardian's extreme right wing political commentator, Julian Glover. I think it's sad that a once-venerable institution like the Guardian allows Glover to get away with shit like this, but there you go. If I was the editor, he'd be toast.
No, what swung it towards No for me was finding sane, rational folks like Chris Brooke and Duncan Weldon moving into the No camp (or at least towards it). I'd expect to find reactionary representatives of Ye Olde Politiks (on both sides of the House), conspiracy theorists, English Democrats, birthers, press barons, Ku Klux Klan serving hot soul food and the band playing "In the Mood", etc. in the No Camp. Like Mos Eisley space port it is a wretched hive of scum and villainy, despite the absence of blasters. But when people like Duncan and Chris move into the encampment... you know Yes has lost it.
I think the main reason that Yes is losing is that they have failed to get Down And Dirty with the campaign in the way that No have. I mean, just look at the No2AV leaflet (one came through our door yesterday): intellectually aimed at the level of an amoeba ("the person that gets the most votes should win the election" - but that DOES happen under AV kids, it's just that the votes are counted differently? HELLO?!) it is consequently good at banging home a simple message to the brain-dead component of the electorate. It also has the MASSIVE advantage of being able to put a big picture of Nick Clegg on the back cover (holding his tuition fees pledge, ho ho) with the slogans "AV leads to broken promises" and "the only vote that would count under AV would be Nick Clegg's". And thus, the man who is deservedly the most unpopular politician in Britain today derails yet another progressive cause.
Yes2AV, by contrast, haven't used their gut punches well. I'd have gone all out and said this was a referendum on whether we want the Tories in forevermore through boundary rigging and gerrymandering. I'd have pointed to the shady big money funding the No campaign. And I'd have put a VERY SMALL picture of Clegg on the cover and said "don't let this slimy punk spoil our chance for change." Yes kids, given the opportunity I could have designed a molotov cocktail of a leaflet which would have knocked the machinations of the No effort into a cocked hat.
Instead we got a truly daft Referendum Broadcast with unintelligible people with megaphones shouting at an Evan Harris(?!) lookalike, and no proper arguments either for AV or against FPTP articulated. No wonder Yes is losing.
There's no doubt that making the case for YES in this referendum is harder than NO. Throughout history, to vote NO, all you need to be is a reactionary stiff-upper-lip bastard. It's an easy line to articulate - "this shall not pass" etc. And you can play on people's fears. Yes is a harder case to make, partly because AV is more complicated than FPTP and also because there is only one status quo but many possible alternatives. And let's be honest, apart from John Rentoul, almost no-one in the Yes camp really wants AV as their preferred system. Most people, myself included, want PR. Indeed if this were a PR referendum I think Yes would be miles in front.
But even with those difficulties, Yes could have still run a much better campaign than they have done. It needed a gut punch to the status quo. What it got was a picture of Ed Miliband and Vince Cable with balloons coming out of their heads. At least Ed has very little staked on this one - with huge numbers of his MPs wedded to the status quo (which tells you something about the crapness of the Labour party in its current incarnation) he was always going to be a half-hearted yes man. For Vince and his fellow Fib Dems, by contrast, this could be the end of the line. That's a nice consolation prize for losing this referendum. But, in the wider sweep of British politics, it's not enough. Hunter S Thompson's "cheap, greedy killers" are winning again, and most of us will be the poorer for it.