Fair votes campaign hires comms chief and targets Joanna Lumley

The battle over voting reform is hotting up as the campaign for a Yes vote in May's referendum appoints a communications chief and eyes up celebrity backers.

Joanna Lumley: top target for Lib Dem campaigners
Joanna Lumley: top target for Lib Dem campaigners

The ‘Yes to Fairer Votes’ campaign has recruited Hill & Knowlton consultant Paul Sinclair as director of comms. A former journalist and special adviser to Gordon Brown, he will lead the campaign’s communications team and act as a spokesman.

PRWeek has also learned that key figures supporting the Yes campaign are keen to have a high-profile celebrity backer, with well-known actress Joanna Lumley the top target.

A referendum on the voting system was demanded by the Liberal Democrats as a condition of their joining a Conservative-led coalition and is expected next May. A No vote would be a serious blow to party leader Nick Clegg.

Leading Lib Dems pushing for a Yes vote are said to have made informal approaches to Lumley, who worked closely with the party last year to campaign on behalf of Gurkhas and is believed to be on good terms with many senior figures in the party. ‘Joanna would be ideal,’ said one well-placed Lib Dem source. ‘We’re keen to get her on board.’

If Lumley could be persuaded to play a role in the Yes campaign, she would line up alongside Sinclair and the campaign’s steering committee chair Pam Giddy, who chaired the Power Inquiry into increasing political participation in Britain.

The vice-chair of the six-strong steering committee is John Sharkey, the ex-Saatchi and Saatchi managing director who is one of Nick Clegg's closest advisers and chair of the Lib Dem 2010 election campaign. The other steering group members are Neal Lawson of Compass, Peter Facey of Unlock Democracy, and Willie Sullivan and Carina Trimingham form the Electoral Reform Society.

‘Politicians have allowed politics to be dragged through the mire in the last few year. This is a chance in the best traditions of the British constitution for a necessary change to rebuild confidence in our system,' said Sinclair, who spent six months in Downing Street in 2008, charged with handling the commentariat.

Sinclair added: 'A Yes vote in May means all politicians will have to work harder, appeal to more voters, and help remove the complacency that comes with the "jobs for life" too many MPs seem to think they have.’

But the Yes campaign faces stiff opposition from the ‘No to AV’ campaign, which is being run by Matthew Elliott, who founded the Taxpayers’ Alliance, and is on sabbatical for the duration of the referendum.

The chairman of the No campaign is Rodney Leach, who headed up the ‘No Euro’ and the ‘We Want a Referendum’ campaigns. The campaign team includes two Tory MPs, Bernard Jenkin and George Eustice. The Australian pollster Lynton Crosby is also reported to have been working with Tory campaigners opposed to a change in the voting system.

This week, the No campaign seized on new research by the right-leaning Policy Exchange think-thank. The campaign’s media team highlighted a report by Dr Robert McIlveen which found that the proposed Alternative Vote would not mean better or fairer representation in the House of Commons. Instead, the report concluded, AV is ‘is the system no-one actually wants’.

Photo: Rex

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