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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
Life and Style
love + sex
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United 1 player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
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

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Recruitment Genius: 2nd / 3rd Line IT Support Engineer - Managed Services Provider

£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 2nd / 3rd Line IT Support Eng...

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot