AV referendum 'will change coalition' says Clegg

This week's referendum on voting reform will change the nature of the coalition Government, regardless of its result, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said today.

Mr Clegg said the May 5 poll will mark the end of the "first phase" of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, which required "real collective discipline", and will allow the parties to express their differences more openly in future.

But Prime Minister David Cameron insisted that the Government remains "very cohesive and strong", and is able to continue to deal with issues such as the deficit, terrorism and public service reform in a united way, despite its increasingly vitriolic inter-party spat over the alternative vote system (AV).

The campaign on whether to replace the first-past-the-post system for electing MPs with the alternative vote - under which voters rank candidates in order of preference - has been marked by brutal exchanges between the coalition partners, with Lib Dem minister Chris Huhne even threatening Cabinet colleagues with legal action for alleged untruths.

Mr Cameron declined today to come to the defence of the tactics of the No to AV campaign, which has infuriated his Lib Dem colleagues by targeting Mr Clegg personally.

The Prime Minister said he would take responsibility only for the Conservative No campaign - which has focused on the argument that first-past-the-post is "simple, fair and decisive" - and not for the cross-party No to AV camp's more "robust" approach, even though pro-reform campaigners argue it is largely funded from Tory sources.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Clegg made clear that his Liberal Democrats expect to take a more independent approach to government after Thursday's vote.

"I think that the first phase of this coalition - the first year, as we were making really difficult decisions on the deficit and so on - required real collective discipline," he said.

"But over time, inevitably, the different identities, different values of the two parties - because we are different parties, always have been always will be - would kind of come out in the wash a bit more.

"And I think that is probably happening in part because of this referendum."

But Mr Cameron insisted there was no reason to expect the coalition to fall apart.

He told Today: "The reason for being in a coalition is as good today as it was a year ago. That is because we are dealing with a serious economic situation, with a massive budget deficit, huge debts that we need to deal with.

"Two parties that are different have come together in the national interest to sort out the economy and to deliver the coalition agreement, which includes also some radical and bold reforms of things like our schools and welfare system.

"This was always going to be a difficult moment, with the two parties on different sides of the referendum campaign.

"But we have a Cabinet meeting this morning, we have a National Security Council meeting afterwards, at the Cobra meeting last night there were Liberal Democrats and Conservatives working out how to keep the country safe from terrorists, at the same time as having a robust argument about the future of the voting system.

"We are getting on with dealing with the problems our country faces and I think been a very cohesive and very strong Government."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Sport
footballLive blog: Follow the action from the Capital One Cup semi-final
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Manager - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web-based lead generation ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century