The Unlikely Reformer

Arnie Craven, Leeds co-ordinator for Yes to Fairer Votes, on Nigel Farage and marmite, encountering Hillary Benn, winning the hearts and minds of the people on the Alternative Vote and ambushing Fabian Hamilton with a handshake.  

I was sitting on the toilet at about half past four on a Thursday and the Leeds press co-ordinator sent me a text which read nothing but “look busy Mr Benn’s in the office” and I thought what on earth. So I quickly finished off on the toilet and ran into the office still drying my hands and there was this man who looked very familiar to me and then it twigged…it was Hillary Benn. He’d just popped down to the office and he was lovely. I hope in the next few weeks the two other Yes to AV Leeds MPs pop down into the office, Greg Mulholland and Fabian Hamilton.


I am the Leeds phone bank manager for Yes to Fairer Votes, but I also function as the Leeds co-ordinator for Yes to Fairer Votes. Fundamentally I have to direct the campaign in Leeds and the surrounding area and any other areas of Yorkshire that other people don’t want, that’s how generous I am.


Some people think it’s a bit strange that I’m an electoral reformist. If you spoke to me politically you’d probably think I was somebody on the right of the Conservative party. But I think it’s really sad we see so many people on the right knee jerk against an issue because it’s also supported by the left.


I was a bit of an argumentative arse at school as I find that a lot of political types are and certain things used to frustrate me despite my sort of right wing disposition I was always a bit anti authority and it used to very much annoy me when teachers would demand certain things, demand respect and things and then treat pupils with none.


That argumentative “arseness” led me to take politics at A-level where I to my delight found a room with 10 other really pedantic annoying people and I thrived on it and so after a year out I decided to do politics at University. Somebody did once say that politics is show business for ugly people and I don’t think I could pursue a career in show business so this is as close as I’ll get.


I think the best man involved in politics today is Nigel Farage. A man who took a political party which was on its knees, that looked slightly questionable in mainstream politics and turned it into a group which in a poll I saw recently is only 3 points behind the Liberal Democrats. No matter what we think of the policies of UKIP that is a staggering effort from the man.


He’s very much a marmite politician, but I think that’s admirable in a way, too many politicians are bland and attempt to be inoffensive and run around refusing to say anything because they fear repercussions.


I think any electoral system which results in 10,000 people out of 20, 30 million voters decide the result of an election is absolutely unfair. Any electoral system which means an MP can be elected on 29% of the vote, it’s just illegitimate and sometimes we need to step back from what we think about how a party will do and say look this is just not fair it’s not right and I don’t think First Past The Post is fair or right.


Things will get dirty in the last four weeks the No Campaign are behind, however they’re very well resourced and we would expect that more billboards will be put up like the “Vote no or the baby gets it” billboard. We’d expect more of that, but our biggest enemy as is always the case is apathy. To overcome that, that is the essential thing.


It’s extraordinary that we have the ability and the arguments to be able to talk to people, who previously did not support AV, explain what it is and then, see that change in their face and see them come out in support. That’s the biggest victory; actually being able to fundamentally change someone’s views on electoral reform is I think an extraordinary thing to be able to do.


Coincidentally about an hour after meeting Hillary Benn, I did bump into Fabian Hamilton in the middle of the road, I sort of ambushed him with a handshake and a mention that I was involved in the AV campaign, the poor man looked terrified. I was actually going home, so I was wearing a leather jacket and boots and he looked as if he thought I was going to beat him up or something. But he was really nice and he gave me his business card and seemed very positive.


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