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Coalition feels the strain as AV argument heats up

The strained relations between the two Coalition parties over electoral reform took another nosedive yesterday when the Liberal Democrat president attacked both Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron.

Tim Farron infuriated the Conservatives by accusing the Thatcher government of imposing "organised wickedness", "slavery" and "human misery" with the help of the "corrupt" first-past-the-post system.

Mr Farron, seen as a possible future leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "I experienced growing up in Lancashire, where Thatcher's government used unnecessary joblessness as a political and economic tool. Avoidable human misery was used as an instrument, a means to an end. This was organised wickedness, given the veneer of legitimacy by an electoral system that gave 100 per cent of government power, despite being opposed by 60 per cent of the population."

He said the Thatcher government was elected by a corrupt system that predated the Empire and slavery and "helped to sustain both".

Mr Farron added: "I look at David Cameron and I scratch my head in confusion. I thought he stood for change, for progress, for reform. He was the future once. Does he really want to be remembered as the last defender of a discredited [electoral] system?"

Lord Tebbit, who was Tory chairman under Baroness Thatcher, accused Mr Farron of using "grossly offensive language" to try to save the seats of a few Liberal Democrat councillors in next week's town hall elections in England. He said: "I do not take kindly to being accused of 'organised wickedness' by a wet-behind-the-ears Lib Dem non-achiever. Nor, I think, would my fellow cabinet ministers in a government which won its third election victory with more votes than its first."

The No campaign pointed to studies showing that AV would have resulted in a slimmer parliamentary majority for Lady Thatcher in her second term but a slightly larger one in 1987.

Joan Ryan, a former Labour MP and deputy director of the No to AV campaign, said: "This is another pathetic example of the senior Liberal Democrats running the Yes campaign trying to skew the facts to fit their false arguments."