Alternative Vote Referendum:

Ed Miliband: 'This is a referendum on the voting system. Not on Nick Clegg'

The Labour leader writes exclusively for 'The Independent'

The nationwide referendum taking place on 5 May – the first for 36 years – is our chance to change politics for the better. Like most political contests, the choice is coming down to hope vs fear. The hopes that a Yes vote can bring better politics and the fears being peddled by the Conservatives who are spearheading the No campaign.

Our politics needs change: the reputation of politics is at an all-time low, turnout at general elections has been declining and many people feel disconnected and alienated from Westminster.

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.

By contrast, under the current system, less than one third of MPs get half of voters' support. It will make more people's votes count – encouraging more people to think there is a point in turning out. And AV is a chance to improve our political culture.

The current system of first-past-the-post entrenches a way of doing things that we must try to change. There is no motivation under this system for parties to go into elections pretending anything other than that they hate each other equally. No reason to find points of common ground; just to disagree. To secure a majority of votes under AV, candidates will need to be more honest about points of agreement. So a Yes vote is a vote for hope for a better politics; more accountable, fairer with a changed political culture.

By contrast, the Tories leading the No campaign seem increasingly to be basing their appeal on fear. They claim it will somehow help extremist parties; quite the opposite, given the need to gain more votes from a wider spectrum of opinion to win a seat. Little wonder that the BNP wants people to reject change.

The No campaign makes inflated claims about costs and it says it will lead to more coalitions, when the evidence is that every election since 1945 that has resulted in a majority government would have done so under AV.

And David Cameron says the system is too complicated, as if putting 1,2,3 on a ballot paper is going to confuse people.

We need to persuade people to look beyond party lines. Some Labour supporters will vote No for principled reasons. Others may be tempted to do so because they think it is a way to punish the Liberal Democrats – and Nick Clegg in particular – for the decision to join a Conservative-led government.

Still more point out that a Yes vote will cause long-term damage to the Tories and foment dissent in David Cameron's ranks among his right-wingers.

Let me say clearly: most people have an opportunity to demonstrate their anger with the Tories and the Liberal Democrats in the local elections in England or those for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. I hope they do so by voting Labour.

But the referendum is something else. It is not a referendum on Nick Clegg nor David Cameron. It is a referendum on AV.

This is not the ideal date for the referendum precisely because of the danger that people use a No vote to kick the Government. But we cannot always choose the moment to change our politics.

People from all parties should look beyond personality or political affiliation.

There is a real danger that this opportunity will be lost if people do not vote on the merits of this issue. There is a risk that the narrow party interests, point-scoring politics and divisive scaremongering encouraged by the present system – and perpetrated by leading Conservatives in the No campaign – will succeed in defeating attempts to move to a new one.

In the end, my sincere hope is that this referendum does not revolve around any particular individual – Nick Clegg, David Cameron or me.

It comes down to this: should we seize this opportunity to reform our politics or not? Should we choose the fear of the No campaign or the hope for a better politics of the Yes campaign? In the long-term interests of the country, let's seize the moment to change politics and vote Yes.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas