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What would a 'yes' vote on the AV referendum mean?

Labour, the Green Party, and the Liberal Democrats all agree that the AV system would be a positive

Standing ominously outside the cross-party Yes to Fairer Votes press conference this morning were a group wearing hollow-eyed Nick Clegg masks.

These vaguely scary figures also brandished placards with "...miserable little compromise" scrawled across them, in reference to Clegg's statement about the Alternative Vote (AV), back when the Lib Dems favoured the more proportional Single Transferable Vote.

Inside though, a group of left-of-centre politicians including Ed Miliband, Tessa Jowell, Caroline Lucas, and Charles Kennedy (but minus Clegg) sat onstage and gave their views on why we should vote "yes" on 5 May.

Miliband spoke first, and made no secret of the fact that he will be campaigning for a Labour majority at the next general election, but also stated that "the tragedy of progressive politics historically has been that division on the centre and left has handed the right victory after victory."

He went on, saying that the Conservatives are against AV because they "know Britain is not fundamentally a conservative country, but with first-past-the-post they are more likely to govern whenever progressive forces are divided." He added that the Conservative coalition with the Liberal Democrats did not change his belief that there is a "progressive majority in this country."

John Denham, the shadow business secretary, debunked the myth that extremist parties will benefit from AV, arguing that the BNP are in fact voting against it as they know that first-past-the-post (FPTP) can help them in local elections.

The Lib Dem party president, Tim Farron, backed this up, saying that AV wouldn't help such parties since most extremists either vote extreme or don't. To much laughter he gave an example of this, saying that there will be few "Lib-Dem fascists" putting the BNP as their first choice, and the Lib Dems as second.

Another important factor was not letting the best be the enemy of the good, as Tessa Jowell stated. AV remains an improvement on FPTP, and Charles Kennedy - famously critical of the coalition with the Conservatives - stressed that it is the only deal on the table, and that we should seize it. Miliband was in agreement, saying that AV is not a panacea, but that it is "a step in the right direction".

The general consensus was that AV will force MPs to "reach out" to their communities rather than doing the bare minimum. As Shirley Williams said, "It's now possible to win a safe seat and keep it for years on the basis of less than a third of the vote. It's about time that we created a voting system that drew on the strengths of all people."

However, Farron admitted that there is no 'turnout clause', which could mean - just as Jowell claimed the coalition government don't have the legitimacy to make massive health reforms - equally if a low turnout votes 'yes', a hugely important change in the political system will not have legitimacy either.

Analyses of how the 2010 general election may have looked had AV been in use show the Lib Dems to be the biggest beneficiaries, with the fortunes of minority parties largely unchanged.

Liam McLaughlin is a freelance journalist who has also written for Prospect and the Huffington Post. He tweets irregularly @LiamMc108.