18 Apr 2011

Alternative vote campaigns intensify

The increasingly bitter political battle over voting reform will shift up a gear on Monday as the country’s most senior politicians go head-to-head in a last-ditch push for votes.

vote - Reuters

Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband are making rival speeches to push their cases for and against the Alternative Vote (AV) system, with less than three weeks to go until the referendum on changing the way MPs are elected.

In separate London events, the “NotoAV” camp is teaming up the PM with former home secretary John Reid while Mr Miliband will appear alongside Business Secretary Vince Cable to back reform.

The battle over whether to replace the first-past-the-post system with AV has exploded into life after accusations of mudslinging and dirty tactics by senior Tories.

More from Channel 4 News – AV vote will not break Coalition, insists Cameron

Mr Cameron, who called for both sides to engage in a “reasonable argument”, will appeal to people to listen to their gut instincts – saying his told him AV was “obscure, unfair and expensive”.

But Mr Miliband accused him and other opponents of trying to frighten voters into keeping the status quo and described the referendum as a battle of “hope versus fear”.

And he appealed to Labour supporters of voting reform to channel any desire to “punish” the Lib Dems to the local and devolved elections on the same day rather than the AV referendum.

The UK-wide vote was a key concession wrung from the Tories by the Lib Dems as part of the deal to join them in a power-sharing administration after May’s indecisive general election.

But it threatens to provoke a serious backlash among backbenchers who stand to lose out, amid further vitriolic exchanges between senior figures.

The presence alongside the Labour leader of Mr Cable – who openly criticised Mr Cameron over immigration last week – is certain to fuel further speculation about the future of the Coalition.

Mr Cameron has insisted that the coalition was in no way jeopardised by the vote as he attempted to play down trenchant criticisms of the Tory tactics made by ex-Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown.

Absent from proceedings is Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg – with whom Mr Miliband has refused to share a platform over fears his presence could deter backers.

The latest opinion poll suggests public attitudes are hardening against AV, giving the “no” camp a six-point lead, a reversal of the position as recently as January.