'Yes' campaign gets off to a comedy start

It must surely be the first political campaign launch in memory to take place without a politician in sight.

Instead, the comedian Eddie Izzard and the Olympic medal-winning athlete Kriss Akabusi will today start the drive for a yes vote in next month's electoral reform referendum.

They will also announce new celebrity endorsements for the campaign to scrap the first-past-the-post method of electing MPs at Westminster. Presenter Jonathan Ross, comedians John Cleese and Chris Addison, and Skins star Nicholas Hoult have sent messages of support.

The launch comes as David Cameron raised the temperature in the referendum battle by delivering his strongest attack on the "crazy" alternative vote system, denouncing it as unfair, undemocratic and complicated.

The Yes team has decided to pitch its appeal as the "people's campaign" free of politicians, calling on the likes of comedian David Schneider, former BBC Director-General Greg Dyke and the former "anti-sleaze" MP Martin Bell to reach out to voters.

Mr Izzard said: "This is the only time we have been asked to change the way we do politics in this country and we should seize the moment. I don't want to wake up after the referendum and find it's business as usual at Westminster." Mr Akabusi said: "My hope is this [campaign] will lead to politicians working harder at a local level."

Both sides of the argument agree that vast numbers of voters are yet to make up their minds how to vote on May 5 – indeed many barely know the referendum is taking place.

The Electoral Commission yesterday launched an awareness campaign in an attempt to counter the danger of a low turnout. A video setting the differences between first-past-the-post and AV was being spread on the internet, while leaflets will be sent to 28 million homes next week. The No to AV campaign pointed out the booklet takes 351 words to explain AV, compared with 59 for first-past-the-post.

Its director, Matthew Elliott, said: "Even the independent Electoral Commission struggle to explain the alternative vote."

Yesterday, Mr Cameron invoked Winston Churchill's criticism of the AV system, in which electors rank their votes in order of preference and candidates are eliminated until one reaches 50 per cent support.

The Prime Minister said: "He said this about AV: the most worthless votes go to the most worthless candidates. Thank you, Winston, I couldn't have put it better myself."

And he took a swipe at Nick Clegg's description of AV – in a pre-election interview with The Independent – as a "miserable little compromise", remarking he "couldn't agree more".

However, a Tory MP signalled he could break with his party's near-unanimous opposition to AV and vote to scrap first-past-the-post. David Mowat, the MP for Warrington South, who described himself as "agnostic" on the subject, told the Liverpool Daily Post: "I think the existing system tends to benefit the Labour Party."

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