People of different faiths and none have united behind Yes to Fairer Votes, after anti-AV campaigners claimed voting reform would encourage extremists.
In fact, AV would require all candidates to aim for 50 per cent support – shutting the door on extremists – say proponents of switching from first-past-the-post to Alternative Vote.
Leading pollster Peter Kellner has described AV as “the most extremist-proof of all electoral systems.”
Nick Griffin’s far-right British National Party (BNP) are also actively campaigning for a ‘no’ vote in the 5 May 2011 referendum, having “sneaked into town halls across Britain on a tiny minority of the vote”, say ‘yes’ supporters.
Katie Ghose, chair of Yes to Fairer Votes, declared: “The No campaign can’t choose their supporters, but they can’t escape the fact the BNP are campaigning for a No vote. Maybe up is down and black is white, but Nick Griffin is still saying No to AV.”
An Anglican bishop, an atheist campaigner, a Muslim and a Hindu have also joined together in support of voting reform.
Farooq Murad, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, added: “We believe that politics can be better. AV means that all voters will have a stronger say in our elections, and that all politicians will have to reach out further – and secure majority support from the communities they seek to represent.”
He added: “The BNP are campaigning for a No vote because they know what a ‘yes’ vote means - that racists who won’t reach out have no future.”
Simon Woolley from Operation Black Vote, added: “AV means all MPs will have to reach out beyond a narrow targeted group of voters and represent people who often feel neglected by our present system. The fact that the BNP desperately want a NO vote speaks volumes.”
Meanwhile, a passionate atheist advocate and an Anglican bishop have put themselves together on the ‘yes’ side of the referendum.
Professor Richard Dawkins said: “No voting system is perfect, but some are more imperfect than others. I am at a loss to understand how any reasonable person can sincerely defend the ‘first past the post’ system, which seems almost deliberately crafted to frustrate the democratic principle at every turn and in every way. AV is a massive step in the right direction, and should be supported by every true democrat, whether from right, left or centre.”
To which the Rt Rev Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, responded: “It doesn’t often happen, but I strongly agree with Richard on this one — we may differ on why the cosmos came into being, but it’s good we can agree on how our little corner of it should work democratically. ”
Meanwhile, Brij Mohan Gupta, chair of the Hindu Culture and Heritage Centre, commented: “I believe that AV will give more power to ordinary voters to decide the fate of the nation”.
A recent report by the IPPR highlighted the correlation between support for the BNP and areas where people are politically disengaged. The BNP, they suggested, fed off a sense of powerlessness and alienation - something which AV seeks to address. Other studies have also suggested the BNP will suffer under AV.
A study by the Electoral Reform Society in Burnley in 2004, where the BNP gained eight council seats under First Past the Post, found that only very small numbers of supporters of other parties would give their second or third preferences to the BNP. It also suggested that the BNP would have won no council seats, rather than eight if the AV system had been used in the 2003 council elections.