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Leaders battle over AV campaign

David Cameron has urged voters not to "sleepwalk" into a change of voting system for Westminster elections which he said would damage Britain's democracy.

With less than three weeks to the May 5 referendum on adopting the alternative vote (AV) system for parliamentary elections, the Prime Minister acknowledged that millions of voters had yet to engage with the issue.

His comments came as Labour leader Ed Miliband accused the No campaign of spreading "groundless fears" that AV would lead to the rise of extremist parties like the British National Party.

The two leaders were fronting rival No and Yes events as they attempted to inject new life into a campaign that could have important consequences for all three major political parties.

Mr Cameron said that AV was "obscure, unfair and expensive" and could mean that "people who come third in elections will end up winning".

However, he said that with millions of voters showing interest in the issue, there was a risk that the Yes campaign could win by default. "The biggest danger right now is that Britain sleepwalks into this second rate system, waking up on May 6 with a voting system that damages our democracy," he said.

Mr Cameron sought to distance himself from the No campaign attacks on Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. "I don't run the No campaign, I run the Conservative No campaign," he said. "I certainly don't condone any personal attacks on anyone in this campaign."

Meanwhile Mr Miliband, who was also appearing on a cross-party platform, urged voters not to use the referendum as an opportunity to give Mr Clegg a "kicking".

"The chance to send a message to this Conservative-led Government lies in the elections that are taking place in English local government, in Scotland and Wales," he said.

Meanwhile, ICM research for the Guardian found the No campaign had opened up a 16-point lead - compared to a two-point advantage for the Yes camp in February.

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