The AV “debate” in Leeds

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…wasn’t really a debate.

There’s been a spat between the Yes and No camps. Basically, the No campaign are hosting “debates” across the country. I say “debates” because they weren’t really. See:

After reading the first story, I decided to register interest in the debates. But, true to Wilkie’s story, I had to go through the No2AV website to ask to attend the Leeds debate at Leeds Town Hall. Strike one. Surprisingly, I was invited to the debate, which was tonight. And so I went, arriving just prior to the debate. Yes to Fairer Votes Leeds were outside the main entrance*, with a stall giving out their campaign literature. Passing by them – and giving my hellos to some campaigners I know – I entered the Town Hall and into the debate.

The emcee then gave apologies that Yes to Fairer Votes apparently “refused” to take part in the debate. Strike two. In fact, there were several Yes activists in the room. So, the debate went ahead, but with two No campaigners chaired by an “impartial” mediator. Strike three.

You can see why this is totally wrong. For a proper debate to go ahead, there needs to be disagreement from the sides in the debate. Even a little disagreement where people may agree with the motion. Even someone playing devil’s advocate if a representative for one side is unable to attend. None of this was present. Instead of being a No-vs.-Yes debate, it was a Labour-No-vs.-Tory-No debate.

Now, I don’t doubt that the mediator was impartial. That was one of the least controversial things about the debate. But the amount of times they said the debate was “impartial” implied they were trying too hard. It’s what they call on TVTropes a “Suspiciously Specific Denial“. It’s about as convincing as someone saying “I’m not being racist, right, but…”

As such, as I made my apologies and left the room after five minutes, as I didn’t see much point in attending a debate with no “Yes” presence. On the way out, the No guys gave me the “January 14th letter”. I asked the guys from Yes why they didn’t take part, and gave a simple and convincing answer: it was set up by the No campaign, and they were not convinced that the debate were impartial; they would happily debate them if it was hosted and arranged by a third party.

No2AV have the letter on their website. For one thing, they got the postcode wrong. Not to worry, letters should get there. But it raises further questions: why didn’t they send it by recorded post?. It’s easy to forge a letter and claim you sent it. It’s harder to allege forgery if you show the Post Office receipt. The Post Office could then verify that isn’t a forgery. As pointed out by a Yes campaigner, the letter alleges that “they spent January” arranging the debates even though, at a generous estimate, they spent eight days given the post date. Not really spending January, is it? Though, to their credit, they did have media presence in Sheffield (Radio Hallam, for example) for that debate, even though that was criticised for impartiality.

The final words go to a Yes activist who was there for the entire debate; according to him, it “should have been called a Conservative Future and Conservative friends rally“.

*For readers in Leeds who particularly care: the “side entrance” on Calverly Street, which for some reason is the “main” entrance; it’s where I was directed when I went to drop off my electoral registration form the other week, among other things.

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