Bitter AV campaign causes cabinet 'bust up'

The increasingly bitter AV campaign spilled over into Government business for the first time today after Chris Huhne raised Conservative tactics in a meeting of the Cabinet.

Mr Huhne challenged the Prime Minister and Chancellor to state their position on the tactics being used by the cross-party No2AV campaign.

However Mr Cameron refused to be drawn into a discussion and dismissed Mr Huhne’s behaviour as ‘inappropriate’ during an official government meeting. Sources described the moment as ‘a bit of a bust up’.

The row was later fuelled by the Lib Dem Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne. He said he was amazed that modernizing Tories hadn't counseled the Prime Minister that the vitriol surrounding the campaign could do long term damage to his own repositioning of the Tory brand.

Browne said the party had moved "quite a long way backwards" towards the nasty party image during the AV campaign, and said such divisive action could leave the coalition looking "a bit different" after the referendum.

Earlier in day Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg admitted for the first time today he was ‘naïve’ to think the Alternative Vote referendum would not cause cracks in the Coalition government.

In an interview on the Today Programme Mr Clegg said he had hoped that the debate on AV would rise above party politics.

But in a sign of how fractious the debate has become Prime Minister David Cameron used an interview on the same programme to defend the tactics used by the No2Av campaign which have infuriated Liberal Democrats.

Meanwhile Labour has not escaped the fall out from the increasingly bitter rows over AV.

The former leader Neil Kinnock today launches an outspoken attack in The Independent on senior colleagues in his party who have campaigned with the Conservatives to encourage a ‘No to AV’ vote on Thursday.

Mr Kinnock told The Independent he "simply cannot understand" how John Reid, Margaret Beckett, John Prescott and David Blunkett can back the Conservatives in support of a system which kept Labour out of power for decades.

"I simply cannot understand how experienced colleagues can mistake the lessons of the last 60 years: that the Tories have profited massively from divisions in the continual anti-Tory majority," he said. "They must recognise the implacable truth – that first past the post is the Tories' lifeline."

In his interview on the BBC 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 has allowed the parties to express their differences more openly in future.

"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."

He added: “I expected, perhaps naively with hindsight, that it wouldn’t be an argument waged by politicians sitting in radio and television studios, and it wouldn't be seen through the prism of party politics.”

But Mr Cameron was keen to reassure voters that there was no reason to expect the coalition to fall apart. He insisted that the Government remains "very cohesive and strong", and is able to continue to deal with the issues that define our generation.

He told Today: "The reason for being in a coalition is as good today as it was a year ago.. 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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy