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17 April 2011

AV: the battle begins

Cameron, Clegg and Paddy Ashdown launch their attacks.

By New Statesman

In the News of the World today, David Cameron offers his five reasons to say No to AV. In summary, they are that AV is too complex, unfair, a waste of money and unpopular, and that the system would make it harder to boot out bad governments.

In the piece, the Prime Minister manages to be both patronising (“Do we want a system only a few number-crunchers in Westminster understand?”) and boldly hypocritical (“It’s so confusing we’d have to spend millions trying to explain it. That’s money better spent on hospitals and schools”).

His tactics and those of the Conservatives more widely, says Paddy Ashdown in a ferocious attack in the Observer, are to scare people into voting against the measure:

The strategy is clear. Throw as much mud as you can, don’t let the issue be discussed openly, and frighten the public over the next three weeks into voting to preserve the power the present FPTP system has given you. This strategy stinks of the same odour which has surrounded our politics recently.

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Ashdown is also particularly critical of the argument that AV will usher in extremist parties:

To have Baroness Warsi stand on the site of race riots in the 1930s and say that a yes vote will help the BNP is as tawdry as it is indefensible. The BNP are campaigning for a No vote. Such extremist parties as have, God help us, been elected in Britain, were elected through FPTP. As a host of independent commentators have argued, AV will diminish their chances, not increase them.

These cynical smears and scaremongering show not only the bankruptcy of the No campaign’s arguments but also how low is the level of its regard for the intelligence of the public.

Nick Clegg will speak up for AV on the BBC’s Politics Show at 2pm this afternoon. It will be yet another opportunity for the Deputy Prime Minister to “take the fight” to the Conservatives, as he promised yesterday. However, as the New Statesman‘s Mehdi Hasan wrote this week:

The embattled Lib Dem leader is a distraction. “Why hit the monkey when you can hit the organ grinder?” says the former shadow chancellor Alan Johnson. Cameron has as much to lose from the AV vote as Clegg – if not more so. The “pause” to the coalition’s NHS reform bill is a reminder of how shaky the Prime Minister’s grip on government is.

At the moment, however, the polls show the public moving in favour of a No vote. In a ComRes survey for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror – weighted to reflect those certain to vote – 37 per cent of people backed AV and 43 per cent were against.