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AV reform 'would be very British'

Switching to the Alternative Vote for Westminster elections would be "a very British reform", Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg will say.

Mr Clegg - who has previously described AV as "a miserable little compromise" and campaigned for other more proportional voting systems - will say that the British way has always been "reform by instalments" rather than sudden revolutionary change.

Throughout history, voting reform has been opposed by "small-C conservatives", and the No campaign for the May 5 referendum is backed by "fascists and extremists" like the British National Party, he will say.

In a speech to his party's London spring conference, he will compare the switch to AV to the three great Reform Acts which extended the franchise and abolished rotten boroughs in the 19th century, as well as the acts which gave all men and some women the vote in 1918 and delivered equal votes for women in 1928.

In each of these cases, the battle was not between left and right or between particular parties, but between reformers proposing "a reasonable step towards greater representation or fairness" and conservatives warning of "disaster if another step is taken".

"The conservatives try to preserve in aspic whatever system currently exists. The conservative tactic at moments of reform is to paint an apocalyptic picture of the future in the event of change," he will say.

"Time and time again, the conservative doomsayers were proved wrong. The same will be true of AV.

"The world will not stop turning on its axis when voters write '1-2-3' rather than an X on their ballot papers. I am certain that in years to come, the arguments being deployed against AV will seem as nonsensical as the ones that were used against allowing women the vote nearly 100 years ago and 18-year-olds the vote 42 years ago."

Caroline Flint, the shadow local government secretary who is supporting the No To AV campaign against reform, said: "It is hard to know which is more laughable - Nick Clegg's dodgy grasp of history, or the fact he's doing it to defend a system he was calling 'a miserable little compromise' less than 12 months ago.

"The suffragettes fought for one person, one vote - not a political stitch-up like AV, which has been rejected by almost every country that has used it. One person, one vote - the bedrock of our current system - has stood the test of time and remains the only way to ensure elections are fair."

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