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May 7, 2011

Round two: AV referendum: Cameron 2-0 Miliband.

It was only a couple of months ago, you might remember, that polls repeatedly predicted a ‘Yes’ victory in Thursday’s referendum on the Alternative Vote. Indeed, an Angus Reid poll on 16th February put ‘Yes’ a huge 15% ahead. Mutterings within the Tory party began – the ‘No’ campaign, people said, was disorganised, underfunded and lacking direction. Aware that defeat for ‘No’ could damage him personally, David Cameron threw off his initial reluctance to get involved and took charge of the Tories’ contribution to the campaign. Number 10 leapt into action, donors were persuaded to contribute, and Cameron got out onto the stump. Within weeks, the polls began to turn. The final result – a huge 68-32 victory for the ‘No’ campaign – is a triumph for the Prime Minister.

By contrast, the result is an embarrassment for Ed Miliband. He took a major role in the ‘Yes’ campaign, and the public have spectacularly rejected his advances. There are three main thoughts: his decision to make the contest party political – by loudly refusing to share a platform with Nick Clegg – spectacularly backfired, his inability to persuade his entire party to follow his lead will be a concern for the future, and Labour’s obsession with celebrities – yes, I’m looking at you, Eddie Izzard – continues to reap no rewards. The irony of it all is that Miliband was always quite lukewarm about AV – until, that is, it looked like ‘Yes’ would win and he promptly hurled himself joyously onto the bandwagon. He has been damaged by his own opportunism.

David Cameron’s far greater ability to connect with the public, to convince and persuade, could be a huge factor in any future general election in which the two men are fighting to be Prime Minister.

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