Benjamin Zephaniah and No2AV Lies

In a month’s time, the UK gets a rare opportunity to reform its voting system. We’re to be given a vote on whether to retain the existing First-Past-The-Post system (FPTP) or replace it with a somewhat more proportional system, the Alternative Vote (AV). I’m strongly in favour of changing the system – I’ll save the explanation for another post, but it’s clear that the existing power blocks are largely against changing the system, as of course you’d expect.

The No2AV campaign appears to be largely funded by the ruling Conservative party, and has regularly been accused of dishonesty and scare tactics; it is helped in disseminating these by the press, which is almost entirely opposed to AV. One of the No campaign’s smartest (and most dishonest) propaganda exercises came this week when it accused the Yes2AV of racism. The story was a well-orchestrated piece of spin: the No campaign had noticed that the Yes campaign was using an image of black poet Benjamin Zephaniah in London leaflets but not in others (see both leaflets below). The No campaign’s PR team then fabricated and issued a story that Zephaniah had been “air-brushed” from the Yes campaign’s leaflets in white areas.

The established media, which is almost entirely behind the No campaign, then amplified the story, adding embellishments – for example the Daily Mirror screamed about the fury behind the change (there was no fury to be seen other than perhaps in Britain’s newsrooms). The same Mirror article exposed the style of smear tactics being employed, with a No spokesman saying: The Yes ­campaign’s leaflet offers a chilling ­preview of politics under the Alternative Vote.

I first saw the story on Monday, and quickly tweeted as follows: Moron Paper of the day: Daily Mail for this pathetic attempt to call the campaign “racist”:

This propaganda was smart because liberal-minded Yes supporters will often be the ones most likely to believe and respond to unsupported accusations of racism. This was demonstrated in a reply to my tweet. A follower replied with: uh, no. I’m a yes supporter but that genuinely is really fkn racist. I disagreed and was quickly dragged into a discussion about “representation”.

Having finally been tracked down, Zephaniah has now stepped in to clarify matters, and as I’d originally guessed and tweeted, he confirmed that this was a non-story from the No campaign. He is quoted as saying: These allegations are preposterous. I am happy for the ‘Yes’ campaign to use my endorsement as they see fit. I am happy for them to use it in London, and as I understand it, in a nationwide letter. “Let’s talk about the real issue – how we renew our democracy. I want democratic change and that is why I am voting ‘yes’ on May 5

The original story made the prime news spot on Sunday morning, while the clarification comes on a Wednesday when it will be missed by many (assuming the press even tries to correct the misunderstanding). The No2AV campaign is making headway in confusing and weakening the issue, and is trying to rob us of our one chance to weaken the existing Tory/Labour duopoly. We have a month to fight back.