Could extremists benefit from AV?

Campaigners against the reform of voting system have warned the Jewish community that a switch to the "alternative vote" system will encourage extremist groups and force mainstream parties to pander to the anti-immigrant vote.

Veteran Labour peer Lord Janner became the first prominent member of the Jewish leadership to publicly back the "No to AV" campaign by putting his name to an advert that appeared on the back page of the Guardian last week along with a number of other peers from ethnic minority communities. Jewish peers Lord Mitchell and Lord Goldsmith are also opposed to the reform.

However, the "Yes to Fairer Votes" campaign has hit back by saying the present system promotes the BNP by alienating large sections of the population whose votes have little impact in safe seats. This, it says, is why the BNP is opposed to reform. Neal Lawson of the Labour campaigning group Compass, which backs AV, said: "The last 13 years under Labour under the first-past-the-post system have opened up a space for right-wing extremism. They will be shut out under AV."

Under the new system voters would place candidates in order of preference. The second preferences of losing candidates would then be transferred until one candidate received 50 per cent of the vote. The date of the referendum is set for May 5, when many people will be voting in local elections.

The Conservative Party has maintained its traditional opposition to AV, while the Labour and Liberal Democrat leadership is campaigning for a Yes vote.

The JC understands that the No to AV campaign has been working hard within the Jewish community to persuade people that the new system will encourage the major parties to chase the second preferences of voters who had put extremist candidates first on their ballot papers.

The Labour campaign against reform is led by the former Liverpool Wavertree MP Jane Kennedy, a former chair of Labour Friends of Israel, who has met several members of the Jewish Leadership Council in their individual capacity.

As a charity, the JLC is not permitted to take sides in a political referendum.

The Yes campaign has not been directly courting the Jewish vote. However, Fabian Hamilton, MP for Leeds North and a member of the LFI executive, argues that the reforms will, in fact further marginalise the BNP, which is why they oppose them.

Organisations representing other ethnic minorities have thrown their weight behind voting reform including Operation Black Vote.

Last updated: 12:48pm, March 24 2011