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
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own