As the country went to the polls this week, Cicero Consulting director Iain Anderson, Insight Public Affairs director John Lehal and Lexis Nexis head of comms Simon Goldie took part in a wide-ranging CIPR TV debate.
The discussion covered the AV vote and the local elections in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the vast majority of local authorities in England.
On AV, Anderson said: ‘I think broadly, the campaigns have been dreadful.’
But asked which side had run the most successful campaign, he responded: ‘It’s got to be the No campaign - a very, very effective, negative campaigning campaign, not about the issues essentially... so not really about the merits or demerits of AV but a brilliantly effective and negative campaign.’
Lehal said: ‘I really feel that the Yes campaigns have missed an opportunity here and although there have been some really spurious facts, figures and approaches from the No campaign they’ve had the muscle of the Conservatives helping them.’
As the debate took place, polls suggested a No vote on AV. Assuming this to be the case, Lehal said: ‘The Lib Dems will be left asking how did we end up in the position, and how did we lose this?’
The panel also discussed whether defeats in AV and the local elections mean Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s position was vulnerable.
Goldie said: ‘Clegg is under pressure already, but who would want the job right now? People are perhaps building up platform to challenge him but that could be a big mistake. Don’t write Clegg off just yet."
But Anderson was less certain about Clegg’s prospects. He said: ‘I think he has to reassert his leadership within the Liberal Democrat party, and quickly. We’ve already heard this afternoon some people are manoeuvring quite overtly for his job.
‘He needs to set a direction for the Liberal Democrats within the context of the Coalition. I do believe this idea of the Liberal Democrats walking out of the Coalition frankly is just not doable in terms of credibility for them right now.’
Meanwhile Lehal was critical of Labour’s strategy in the run-up to Thursday’s elections.
He said: ‘Ed Milliband has strategically made a fundamental error by coming out so clearly on the AV referendum. He has only been to Scotland twice so he will have to take some responsibility for the results. He needs to start surrounding himself with more strategists... the Mandelsons, Campbells and Goulds.’