AV Wars; ‘ground’ v ‘air’….and how Yes could still spring a surprise….

It’s been a while since I have written anything about AV. The referendum seems to have been rather engulfed in a slew of much more important events. Still, I thought the opening of the campaign season and therefore the entering of the AV Debate into the home straight; along with the other campaigns that reach their culmination on 5th May seems as good a time as any to take a reflective pause for breath.  I don’t want this to turn into a discussion on AV itself; my views on that haven’t changed and are highly unlikely too. More I would like to compare and contrast the approaches of the two campaigns.

In my eyes; it’s broadly right that you can separate the two camps into the two approaches above. By ‘ground’, I mean an intensive activist-based ‘grassroots’ strategy and by ‘air’, I mean a more heavy-hitting media dominated campaign. Yes has taken the former approach and No the latter, I would submit. Yes seem to be constantly phone banking where as No have relied on ‘shock and awe’ advertising.

I have to admit, I prefer the tack Yes has taken purely as a campaigning strategy. It’s probably natural that they have taken this route to some degree, after-all, whether you regard it positively or negatively, they are the ones pushing for a change. In that sense, a ground campaign lends itself much more naturally to this approach. The broad thrust of the No camp is to defend the status quo; a more ‘hands-off’ air attack is therefore more appropriate in some regards.

However, there is a big danger in No relying purely on aerial supremacy. As I have said before, Labour voters will be kingmakers in this referendum and what should give No pause for thought is the result the last time a ground and air campaign went head-to-head in a battle for the hearts and minds of committed Labourites. Air led all the way, until the very end when it lost in highly dramatic fashion. I am referring to the leadership battle between the two Miliband’s where David’s more airy campaign lost out eventually to the guts n’ glory ground efforts of the Ed team. I feel Labour voters tend more naturally to respond to a ground offensive (as opposed to Conservative ones, who I would say are more partial to an air assault).

You can see objective proof of this in the General Election result and campaign. Where Labour was established and therefore able to run a good ground campaign it mitigated considerably the swing to the Conservatives. This may seem to amount to a lot when you look at it superficially as we still lost but it’s actually what prevented 2010 turning into a rout for Labour on the scale that 1997 was for the Conservatives; so it would be wrong to underestimate its significance.

On the plus side for No, the opinion polls are now breaking universally in its favour after something of a wobble. However, not by enough of a margin to make anything a cast-iron certainty. The proportion of don’t knows, perfect targets for a late ground offensive, make it impossible to be confident that this means No is coasting to an easy victory. If No wants to win, it has to up it’s ground-game; if it doesn’t do that Yes may still pull off a shock result yet….



About darrellgoodliffe


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