Vote change row threatens UK coalition
Published 02/05/2011 | 05:00
FACING their gravest crisis since forming a coalition, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Nick Clegg insisted last night that their government would survive.
But a bitter row over electoral reform has put the future of the coalition in jeopardy in a run-up to Thursday's vote on the issue.
Mr Cameron risked inflaming tensions by repeating claims that switching to the Alternative Vote (AV) could require expensive counting machines -- a suggestion dismissed as a "lie" by Liberal Democrats.
AV would allow voters to rank candidates for parliament in order of preference.
Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne lambasted the Tory leadership for making "outrageous" personal attacks on Deputy Prime Minister Clegg.
The interventions came with Labour leader Ed Miliband already seemingly positioning himself for what polls predict will be a resounding No verdict in the referendum.
Mr Miliband complained that Mr Clegg had been a "massive hindrance" to the Yes campaign.
"I think Nick Clegg is part of the problem that we face," he told the BBC's 'Politics Show'.
"I think the country will be bemused, frankly, how both sides have got so hot under the collar about an issue that I do care about and I think is important, but it is not top of most people's lives at the moment."
Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, Mr Clegg conceded it was proving difficult to persuade people to "move with the times".
Asked whether his personal standing was harming the chances of a Yes victory, Mr Clegg replied: "It is far more important than any of us. It is far more important than the coalition government."
Despite previously condemning those behind the No campaign as a "right-wing clique", the Liberal Democrat leader said he did not want to "personalise" the issue.
But he accused opponents of trying to "sow confusion" and peddling "ludicrous bilge". "Those who want to argue against change will try to amplify the fears," he added.
Appearing on the same programme, Mr Cameron said the government would keep working together constructively regardless of the outcome.
"We are doing that already," he said. "The business of government goes on."
Mr Cameron added: "We always knew that this would be a moment of difficulty for the coalition because we always knew that Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would be on opposing sides.
"But I think it is perfectly possible, indeed we will demonstrate that it is possible, to continue a strong and effective coalition government in the national interest for five years."
He said both he and Mr Clegg agreed that "if we succeed as a coalition we will both succeed as individual parties".
However, Mr Cameron showed no signs of toning down his assault on AV.
"Clearly there would be a cost if we move to a new system," Mr Cameron said. "If we move to a system with voting machines, as I think would be the case, that would be expensive."