Clegg suffers double blow and faces party backlash

Defeat looms in AV and council polls while Lib Dems vow to hit back at Tories

Nick Clegg was heading for a humiliating double defeat early today in the English council elections and the referendum on the voting system.

There were signs of a backlash against Mr Clegg from some of his MPs and councillors as the first local authority results emerged in the early hours of this morning. Lib Dem officials conceded they would suffer a bloody nose in the North of England, where Labour mounted a fightback in its traditional strongholds.

Early results in the Scottish Parliament elections suggested the Lib Dem vote had collapsed north of the border. The Scottish National Party (SNP), rather than Labour, appeared to be the main beneficiary, boosting Alex Salmond's chances of retaining power.

Mike Hancock, Lib Dem MP for Portsmouth South, warned that Mr Clegg would now need to drive a harder bargain with Mr Cameron inside the Coalition. He told the BBC: "He still needs our votes to get a majority in Parliament. We have got to say that the price of our support is a bit harder than it has been up to now. Maybe he has had too easy a ride... Maybe we have to twist his arm a bit harder."

Officials on both sides of the referendum campaign reported a low turnout. The No camp was optimistic that when the result is declared tonight, it will defeat calls for a switch to the alternative vote (AV), which could kill off any prospect of electoral reform for many years. Some figures in the Yes camp are privately resigned to a defeat by about 60 to 40 per cent. Sadiq Khan, the shadow Justice Secretary and a close ally of Ed Miliband, told Sky News early today: "I'm afraid the Yes vote is lost for a generation."

Senior Lib Dems warned Mr Cameron that he would pay a price for allowing personal attacks on their leader by the Tory-led No campaign which opposed electoral reform. They predicted that their partnership with the Conservatives would be permanently damaged by the "vicious" criticism of Mr Clegg.

Lib Dems threatened a revenge attack in which they would block plans to redraw the UK's parliamentary map. The move could destabilise the Coalition because Mr Clegg's party agreed to back Tory proposals to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600 in return for granting yesterday's referendum on whether to keep the first-past-the-post system. The planned boundary review had been expected to boost Tory prospects at the next general election by depriving Labour of at least 20 seats.

Lord (Paul) Tyler, Lib Dem spokesman on constitutional affairs in the House of Lords, told The Independent: "Lib Dem MPs and peers don't hold the same view of our Coalition allies as we did a few weeks ago. The No campaign has been funded, organised and in effect driven by the Conservative Party. It's a fact of life that there is less enthusiasm today than there was a month ago for the detailed day-to-day support for each other's priorities. It is by no means a done deal that the next election will be fought under new boundaries."

Mr Cameron is expecting heavy Tory losses in the local authority elections, but allies said his standing would be enhanced by a No vote in the referendum.

Although senior Lib Dems insisted the partnership government would carry on, Lord (Paddy) Ashdown, the party's former leader, said Mr Cameron's refusal to disown its "regiment of lies" would have long-term consequences for the Coalition, including the terms on which it eventually ends. He said: "So far the Coalition has been lubricated by goodwill and trust. It is not any longer."

He added: "You cannot fund a deeply vicious campaign to destroy the personality of your partner, who has been unmoved in his brave support of the Coalition, without there being consequences."

Lord Oakeshott, the party's former Treasury spokesman in the Lords, said: "Cameron's performance in pretending he had nothing to do with the No campaign's attacks on Clegg was shameless. At least Pontius Pilate had the decency to wash his hands."

Lord Tyler denied his move was a "tit- for-tat" response to the attacks on Mr Clegg. Insisting that it would not breach the Coalition Agreement, he said: "It would not be tearing up the boundary review, it would be postponing it." Some elements of the agreement would be more difficult to honour after the referendum campaign, he added.

The Tories would react furiously to any attempt by the Liberal Democrats to stall the boundaries shake-up. Lib Dem sources said Mr Clegg is wary of looking like a "bad loser" if AV is rejected.

Last night, Labour officials predicted town hall gains in every region of England. A Labour source said: "This shows we need a change of direction, not business as usual."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Management Accountant

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Manag...

Recruitment Genius: Manufacturing Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a rare opportunity for ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'