UK Politics

War of words in campaign over UK voting change

The gloves are well and truly off in the battle over how Britain elects its MPs, ahead of 5 May's referendum. Here is how the political row has escalated:

Labour leader Ed Miliband

Despite Mr Miliband and the Lib Dems being on the same side in the alternative vote debate - backing a Yes vote on 5 May - the Labour leader refuses to share a campaign platform with Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

He said on 14 March: "What do the people who are running the No to AV campaign want? They want Nick Clegg [to appear]... the best thing Nick Clegg can do on this, frankly, if he wants us to win, is lie low for a bit."

Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi

The No campaign argues that AV could have unintended - and unwanted - consequences, and on 30 March, Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi said: "AV gives more power to those people - fringe voters, Monster Raving Loonies, and yes, fascists - who are voting for precisely the kind of extreme policies most people want to marginalise.

"It means that bigots will be given more power in our politics and extremists will look to gain more influence over mainstream parties.

"The danger is that under AV, our whole political system would take a giant leap backwards, becoming more warped and disproportionate as fringe voters hold sway."

Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne

The Lib Dem minister responds angrily to the remarks by Baroness Warsi, a cabinet colleague, saying: "If Baroness Warsi thinks that AV will benefit fascism she has to explain why the BNP wants to stick with what we have and Operation Black Vote supports AV.

"The BNP know the present system is their only chance of election.

"This is another example of the increasingly Goebbels-like campaign from the anti-AV people, for whom no lie is too idiotic given the truth is so unpalatable to them."

Chancellor George Osborne

The No to AV campaign complains about the part-funding of the Yes campaign by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS).

It claims the ERS's commercial arm, Electoral Reform Services Ltd (ERSL), stands to benefit financially from a switch to AV.

The chancellor said: "That stinks frankly and is exactly the sort of dodgy, behind-the-scenes shenanigans that people don't like about politics."

Former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown

The former Lib Dem leader hits back at the chancellor's remarks, saying: "Their [the No campaign's] strategy is clear: throw as much mud as you can, don't let the issue be discussed openly and frighten the public over the next three weeks into voting to preserve the power the present first-past-the-post system gives them.

"This strategy stinks of the same odour which has surrounded our politics recently.

"For the Chancellor of the Exchequer ... to claim that there is something 'dodgy' about the Electoral Reform Society donating cash to a campaign in favour of electoral reform is bizarre."

Ed Miliband

Asked again at another Yes event on 18 April about his refusal to stand alongside Mr Clegg, the Labour leader says: "I will share a platform with anybody I think can help us win a referendum.

"The No campaign want to make Nick Clegg the poster boy for this campaign, and what I'm saying is, 'Don't make this a referendum on David Cameron or Nick Clegg or Ed Miliband - make it a referendum about what kind of politics we want in this country.'"

Mr Miliband also urged his supporters not to vote against AV simply to "give Nick Clegg a kicking".

Labour peer Lord Reid

The veteran Labour bruiser teams up with David Cameron to support the No campaign, and claims the "leadership of the Lib Dems" were fighting for AV on the basis of "narrow self-interest".

"The answer for the losing parties is to work harder to win more votes... not to introduce a system that tries to change losers into winners," Lord Reid said.

The peer also seized on the spat between Mr Miliband and Mr Clegg, claiming it was the Yes campaign's "biggest handicap".

"We are prepared to share platforms. I don't think the Yes campaign are, are they?" he adds.

Business Secretary Vince Cable

Ed Miliband may have refused to work with Nick Clegg, but Vince Cable joins him on the Yes campaign trail instead.

Asked about his leader's position, Mr Cable said: "I certainly don't think he's a liability for the campaign."

But he admits he was disappointed with Mr Miliband's snub, saying: "I would like to see them sharing a platform."

Chris Huhne

As the row over Mr Clegg's position escalates, the energy secretary says he was "frankly shocked that coalition partners can stoop to a level of campaign that we have not seen in this country before".

Asked whether the row over AV was harming the coalition, he said: "I think it is damaging. There is no doubt about it.

"I can never remember a campaign that has stooped as low as the No campaign in dredging up stuff that they know is downright lies.

"I think this is the politics of the gutter."

Lord Ashdown

Following Mr Cameron and Lord Reid's joint appearance, Lord Ashdown tells the BBC he was furious at the "Conservative Party money and the dinosaurs of Labour who are attacking the man holding the coalition together".

"The personalisation of the No campaign is disgusting politics," he said.

"The result is not going to affect the coalition, but the way that this is being fought, the way that our leader, Nick Clegg, is being singled out by a campaign funded by the Conservative Party is, I think, very damaging.

"It must be making Liberal Democrats fighting furious and I am certainly one of those."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg

Responding to discussions about his position, the Lib Dem leader said: "I honestly don't think people are going to make up their mind on 5 May based on which politician has attended which event."

Prime Minister David Cameron

Asked about the attacks on his deputy, the prime minister said: "I don't run the No campaign, I run the Conservative No campaign.

"I certainly don't condone any personal attacks on anyone in this campaign."

A No 10 spokesman added Mr Cameron's focus in the campaign was pointing out the deficiencies of the alternative vote system, "not attacking Nick Clegg".

Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh

Reacting to Lord Ashdown's comments, the Labour MP - patron of the party's No to AV campaign - said: "This hysterical outburst shows how the Yes campaign is getting increasingly desperate in their attacks on the No campaign. In politics when you start accusing people of lying, instead of trying to explain the issue at hand, you have lost the argument."

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