Sunday, 24 April 2011

BBC News - Hague denies AV 'lie' claims, but says coalition secure

24 April 2011 Last updated at 12:22

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Hague denies AV 'lie' claims, but says coalition secure

William Hague Many accusations are directed at the No campaign rather than the Conservative Party, Mr Hague said

William Hague has played down claims that the No campaign in the Alternative Vote referendum has lied, but said the coalition will survive any fallout.

He made the comments after a row escalated over the cost of switching to AV and whether it would benefit parties such as the British National Party.

The Foreign Secretary told the BBC's Andrew Marr show that he agreed with the claims made by the No camp.

Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes said earlier the No campaign was "telling untruths".

'Inventing facts'

Conservative party chairman Baroness Warsi has said changing the UK voting system to AV would mean more votes and legitimacy for the BNP.

She said it would see politicians "pandering to extremist votes".

Mr Hughes said on the Andrew Marr show that she had been "inventing facts".

But Mr Hague supported Baroness Warsi.

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At the moment MPs are elected by the first-past-the-post system, where the candidate getting the most votes in a constituency is elected.

On 5 May all registered UK voters will be able to vote Yes or No on whether to change the way MPs are elected to the Alternative Vote system.

Under the Alternative Vote system, voters rank candidates in their constituency in order of preference.

Anyone getting more than 50% of first-preference votes is elected.

If no-one gets 50% of votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their backers' second choices allocated to those remaining.

This process continues until one candidate has at least 50% of all votes in that round.

He said: "I think she's right, because what do you do in a system where there are third and fourth preferences?

"Will the candidates in marginal seats have to think about how they're going to get the second, third and fourth preferences of people who have voted for the BNP?"

He added: "These things are therefore not disputed facts, they're matters of opinion about the implication of AV and they should be understood as that."

He also said "there was no doubt" that having a more complicated system "would cost more" and that it was a legitimate issue to raise in a campaign.

Mr Hughes, the Lib Dems' deputy leader, said: "The people responsible ought to back off, own up that they are inventing things to try and win the campaign for the status quo and argue on the facts and merits of their campaign which is a poor one rather than trying to frighten people into keeping the current position."

He added that he proposed to go to the Electoral Commission to ensure future elections did not see "untrue statements in official campaigns circulated".

Mr Hague stressed his own objections to the AV system.

"You can argue for a decisive system, which we have most of the time in this country, or you can argue for a proportional system as they have in Germany.

"In my view what you can't argue for is a system that is neither decisive nor proportional, that can be indecisive and proportional at the same time," he said.

Coalition survival

Both Mr Hague and Mr Hughes agreed that despite having differing views on whether to change the voting system, the coalition would survive the referendum.

Nick Clegg has described those campaigning for a "No" vote as "right-wing clique who want to keep things the way they are," in the Independent on Sunday.

In response, Mr Hague said he did not know anyone in government who fitted that description and said the coalition was working well.

"Yes, we all have strong feelings but at the end of it the coalition will work very well together as it is at the moment.

"We're used in general election campaigns to accusations flying back and forth and I think a lot of these accusations are directed at the No campaign rather than the Conservative Party.

"In a referendum campaign feelings run high, people get excited. The important thing for people to know is that the coalition is working well together."

And Mr Hughes said the coalition contained "civilised individuals", who could work well together.

BBC correspondent Louise Stewart said politicians may not have expected the language to be quite so personal but what it did mean was the campaigns were getting their messages across before the public's attention was taken up by the royal wedding.