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18 April 2011

The heat is on in the battle over AV

Divisions within parties laid bare by unexpected alliances, while report finds that AV suits modern

By Samira Shackle

The battle over changing the voting system continues to hot up, with two political odd couples appearing less than a mile from each other today. David Cameron will share a platform with the Labour heavyweight John Reid to call for a No vote in the 5 May referendum. Meanwhile, Ed Miliband will appear with the Lib Dem Business Secretary, Vince Cable, to call for a Yes vote.

In his speech, Cameron will say:

I don’t think John will mind me saying: we don’t agree on much. But we do, absolutely, agree on this. AV would be wrong for Britain. It is obscure, unfair and expensive. It will mean that people who come third in elections can end up winning. It will make our politics less accountable and it would be a backward step for our country.

Meanwhile, Miliband will accuse the No campaign of “basing their appeal on fear”. He writes in the Independent today, urging voters not to make it a referendum on the coalition and making the case for AV:

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My own view is that the Alternative Vote (AV) isn’t a panacea. It’s not perfect. But I hope and believe it will help improve our politics. It will make politicians more accountable, as every MP will have to seek out more than 50 per cent of the vote.

The Institute for Policy Research (IPPR) releases a report today which suggests that AV is better suited to the modern electorate than first-past-the-post, because voters have become less tribal in their voting habits. YouGov polling for IPPR found that 60 per cent of voters (nearly two-thirds) feel that more than one political party represents their views and values, with just 18 per cent (fewer than one in five) saying that only one party does so.

It also found that more than one in five voters has engaged in tactical voting and voted for a second choice under FPTP. AV would reduce this, because voters can express more than one preference. In a “mock AV ballot”, 78 per cent expressed a second preference and 57 per cent expressed a third preference.

It’s not all good, though – the report concludes that AV will not increase voter turnout. It also reconfirms that the electorate has mixed feelings about the system. This supports yesterday’s ComRes survey for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror, which concluded that 37 per cent of people backed AV and 43 per cent were set against.

With no overwhelming majority for either side, the battle is clearly still there for the winning. Expect more vigorous debate over the next fortnight.