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Alternative Vote

BNP's opposition to AV exploited by Yes campaigners

Voters keen to distance themselves from the far right are courted by advocates of voting reform

It's that time of the political season when everyone agrees with Nick. But which one?

A year ago, the phrase was coined by Gordon Brown and David Cameron to align themselves with Nick Clegg during the leaders' television debates. Twelve months on, the Liberal Democrats' leader's plunge in popularity means his image has been appropriated by opponents of his plan to adopt the alternative vote for electing MPs.

Now a new Nick has entered the fray. Mr Griffin, the leader of the British National Party and political hate figure, is to feature in a series of posters for the Yes campaign highlighting the BNP's opposition to AV.

The billboards have aligned Mr Griffin with David Cameron, who last week launched his strongest attack yet on replacing first past the post with AV. He said the system of ranking candidates in order of preference was "crazy" and "undemocratic".

The decision to place Mr Griffin at the centre of the next stage of the Yes campaign came after research suggested the BNP's opposition to AV produced overwhelming support for reform. Katie Ghose, chair of the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign, said: "We have been speaking to voters across the country. The minute they hear that Nick Griffin is campaigning for a No vote they say Yes. Griffin is voting No and encouraging BNP supporters to do the same. He knows his party has no future with AV."

But the image appeared to be at odds with the politician-free campaign launch yesterday in central London. Instead, comedian Eddie Izzard, writer Rowan Davis, gold medal winner Kriss Akabusi, journalist Martin Bell and fashion designer Amisha Ghadiali lined up to explain why AV would stop MPs from becoming complacent. Greg Dyke, former BBC director-general, said: "Once nominated, you've got a job for life, which is why we've got rather average politicians. AV will begin to change that." More than 100 rallies were held across the country.

Writing in The Independent on Sunday, Mr Clegg hails the vote as an example of long-held Lib Dem policies which are "becoming reality". He adds: "Electoral reform had felt like an unattainable goal for decades: now voters are being given their first chance ever to get rid of the broken system that helped produce the expenses scandal."

The referendum takes place on 5 May, with both sides anxious about the level of public awareness. Under AV, voters rank candidates in order of preference. Those performing least well are eliminated in reverse order with their votes distributed to others until one candidate has 50 per cent of the support.

However, Mr Clegg once described AV as a "miserable little compromise" because it is it not a proportional system. According to a YouGov poll of 2,391 people carried out last week, 19 per cent of people want to see a proportional voting system – STV – while only 16 per cent backed AV.

Lord Alton, a former Lib Dem MP backing the No to AV, Yes to PR campaign, said: "Rejecting AV will make bringing in real reform more likely. If the wrong change is made now, it will be years before the debate will be reopened."