Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday, 27 January 2012

Keep it simple, stupid.

Compare and contrast:

The candidate with the most votes wins.


Round one
• The number 1 votes for each candidate are put into a pile and counted.
• If a candidate receives more than half the number 1 votes cast, they win and there is no further counting.
• If no candidate receives more than half the number 1 votes there would be at least one more round of counting.

Round two
• The candidate with the fewest number 1 votes is removed from the contest – in this case Candidate D.
• Each ballot paper on Candidate D’s pile is looked at again.
• If the ballot paper shows a number 2 vote for another candidate, it is added to that candidate’s pile. For example, if a ballot paper showed a number 1 vote for Candidate D and a number 2 vote for Candidate B, it would be moved to Candidate B’s pile.
• If the ballot paper does not show a number 2 vote, it is no longer used.

Round three
• Again, the candidate with fewest votes is removed from the contest – this time it’s Candidate C.
• Each ballot paper on Candidate C’s pile is looked at again to see if any of the remaining candidates are ranked.
• If so, the ballot paper is moved to the pile of the candidate ranked highest on that ballot paper.
• If none of the remaining candidates are ranked the ballot paper is no longer used.

If more candidates are involved, this process can be repeated until one candidate has more than half the remaining votes.

They are both taken from the Electoral Commission's official literature (opens PDF) circulated before the AV referendum last year. The 7 word one describes First Past The Post. The second one that spans several paragraphs and bullet points describes how AV works.

During the AV campaign, as a supporter of the Yes camp I could see that the fact that FPTP could be described so easily and AV took longer was damaging us. It is hard enough to get people interested in political issues and anything that makes your message harder to get across decreases your chances of gaining traction. I am not saying this was the only reason why the Yes2AV campaign failed. There were lots of reasons but this definitely did not help and contributed to the failure.

Now compare and contrast these:

We have to make these cuts as we are spending beyond our means.


If we were in government, we wouldn't be cutting this fast or this much. But because the Government's cuts are damaging economic growth, there will be fewer tax revenues and more spending on unemployment benefits, so even with their cuts, the deficit won't shrink as fast as the Coalition wants. That means, by the time of the next election, the deficit won't have been eliminated, which means, if we win, that we'll have to make even more cuts. So we won't be able to reverse the ones that have already been made.

The first is a reasonable synopsis of the coalition government's economic position, the sort that you hear mnisters regularly trotting out.

The second one is about the best synopsis I have seen of Labour's latest economic position on the cuts (taken from a Mary Ann Sieghart piece in The Indpendent last week).

The first one takes less than three seconds to say. The second one takes about 10 times as long.

Sadly, nuanced political messages are a very difficult sell. Unless you can distill your policy down into a short, catchy ten second or less soundbite then you are on the back foot from the get go. I have lamented this problem before but it is undeniably true and if anything is getting worse as people's attention beomes ever more fragmented with many different sorts of media and leisure activities competing for our time.

Perhaps even more importantly, as we discovered to our cost during the AV campaign, the fact that Labour's message is more nuanced makes it very easy for their opponents to paint it as muddled and overly complicated. Along the lines of "They were against the cuts, now they are for them" (with unfortunate echoes of John Kerry's worst gaffe during his doomed 2004 US presidential bid). I received an e-mail from Nick Clegg sent out to party members recently that does exactly that.

I'm not sure what the two Eds thought they would achieve with this policy. They have both been around in politics long enough to understand the rules of the game. I fear that unless they can quickly find a way to explain it as succinctly as the government can explain theirs then it will fail to cut through.

They may well rue failing to learn one of the main lessons of the AV campaign.

Keep it simple, stupid.

This post was first published on Dale & Co.

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