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UK Politics

Gove deals blow to voting reform opposition

The "no" campaign for the voting system referendum next year suffered embarrassment today when it was first forced to remove a Cabinet Minister from its list of supporters and then wrongly claimed he was opposed to the switch to the Alternative Vote.

Education Secretary Michael Gove was included on a list of high-profile cross-party "patrons" issued by the "No to AV" group.

He was hastily removed after a "small misunderstanding" over emails but a campaign spokesman said that, while he would not speak for it publicly, Mr Gove was nevertheless "against" AV and would be "campaigning against it".

But Mr Gove's spokesman insisted that was not true and the Cabinet minister was yet to make up his mind about his stance for next May's vote on replacing the present first-past-the-post system for general elections.

"He is undecided on this issue," he said.

Mr Gove was initially billed as part of a heavyweight line-up of patrons recruited to publicly front the "no campaign".

Labour former cabinet ministers Margaret Beckett, John Prescott, David Blunkett, John Reid and Lord Falconer are all among the patrons.

They will work alongside senior Tories such as Foreign Secretary William Hague, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke and party chairman Baroness Warsi.

Allowing a public vote - due to be held on May 5 - was a key concession won by the Liberal Democrats as part of coalition negotiations with the Conservatives.

Labour promised a referendum on AV in its manifesto and the change is supported by new leader Ed Miliband, but MPs have a free vote on the issue and there is significant internal opposition.

The Education Secretary's name was removed at the last minute from the list.

Asked about the reasons, a campaign spokesman said: "There was a small misunderstanding. Things simply got lost in translation.

"He wants to concentrate on education reforms.

"He is against AV like David Cameron and the rest of the Conservative Party. He will be campaigning against AV, he just did not want to be a patron."

But Mr Gove's spokesman said: "He did not want to be involved. There was a misunderstanding at their end.

"He is undecided on the issue. I would not say he was for or against."