Yesterday the No to AV campaign claimed that the referendum to change the voting system would cost taxpayers £250 million. This was an eye catching claim. It did not cheer up many who want public spending brought under control without damaging important services. The cost of the referendum joined overseas aid to more successful countries, and the growing EU budget, on the list of spending many would like to cut.
As it happened the government yesterday brought a Money Resolution to the Commons on the very subject of the referendum. It seemed an ideal opportunity to test out the No to AV claims. Would it really cost as much as £250 million to hold the count on this item on the same day as local elections? Could it be done more cheaply?
The government’s Money proposal was a minor technical matter. They had already secured agreement to the general expenditure. The Minister asked to defend this proposal was unable to tell the House how much the AV referendum would cost. He told us the latest change would reduce the cost, but was unwilling to share with us how much it take off the bill and what the new cost would be. Labour agreed with the government’s motion, so there was no point in dividing the House on it. It was not a good moment for Parliamentary democracy. Parliament’s strength emerged from a tussle to control the state’s spending and taxing.
We learn that the No to AV campaign has less money from donors to spend than the pro AV campaign, and that it is now behind in the polls. Both sides in this argument are going to find it difficult to grab the attention of the public. I do not find my email b ox jammed with messages for and against a change in the voting system. Parliament seems to be spending money on something which is not top of the public’s concerns. MPs are finding it difficult to galavanise electors, or even to explain how the AV system works.