AV campaigns able to spend more than £11 million

by Stephen Tall on August 10, 2010

Today’s Financial Times reports:

Campaigners for and against electoral reform will be able to spend a total of more than £11m in a blizzard of promotional material and advertisements in the run-up to next year’s referendum, the Electoral Commission has confirmed.

Under the law, the Yes and No campaigns on the alternative vote (AV) system can each spend £5m of private money as well as £600,000 apiece of public funding. The two sides will also be given free use of public rooms such as council buildings, a TV broadcast and free postal delivery to households across the UK of 20m leaflets each.

The paper reckons this will offer an in-built advantage to the ‘No’ campaigners, arguing “City figures with deep pockets and conservative leanings are thought more likely to favour keeping the first-past-the-post system.” And it notes that “the only party that will campaign wholeheartedly for AV is the Liberal Democrats, who raised only £3.7m in total in party donations in 2009″.

Though both statements are true, I would expect the campaign to be more evenly matched than this suggests. For a start, well-networked and well-financed organisations such as the Electoral Reform Society, though still committed to proportional representation, are supporting the Alternative Vote.

On the other hand, I would be surprised to see the Lib Dems directly financing the pro-AV campaign, except in-kind through campaigning literature. Nick Clegg has said he will not be the flag-waver of the Yes campaign, partly out of respect for the Coalition, and more importantly because political leaders are not the ideal standard-bearers for a campaign that will divide parties and unite opponents in surprising ways.