Coalition 'will survive AV vote'

David Cameron and Nick Clegg insisted the coalition would survive the electoral reform referendum today despite increasingly bitter exchanges.

As the campaign entered its final stages, the Liberal Democrat leader renewed his criticism of the No camp for spreading "misinformation" about the Alternative Vote (AV).

Mr Clegg also said the issue was "far more important" than his own personal popularity or even the performance of the Government.

For his part, the Prime Minister warned that switching systems would be "expensive" and a "huge mistake".

However, both men stressed that the alliance between the Tories and Lib Dems would survive until 2015 regardless of the outcome on Thursday.

With polls suggesting AV will be resoundingly rejected, Labour leader Ed Miliband has complained that Mr Clegg's involvement has proved a "massive hindrance" to the Yes campaign.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, the Deputy Prime Minister conceded it was proving difficult to persuade people to "move with the times".

But he said it was too early to start a "post-mortem" of the campaign, adding that the royal wedding had been taking much of the public's attention.

"It is sometimes quite challenging to persuade people that we need to change things, move with the times," he said. "A lot of people probably haven't quite focused on it yet. I think there is a lot to play for between now and Thursday."

Challenged on 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 a "right-wing clique" behind the No campaign, the Liberal Democrat leader said he did not want to "personalise" the issue.

But he accused opponents of trying to "sow confusion". "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 after the public delivered its verdict.

"We are doing that already," he said. "We had a very successful Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, we will be having another Cabinet meeting this Tuesday. The business of government goes on."

Mr Cameron went on: "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".

The premier insisted AV would be a "huge mistake for the country, so I hope there will be a strong no vote".

He denied suggestions he had broken a deal with Mr Clegg not to take a high-profile role in the No campaign.

And Mr Cameron refused to back away from claims that AV would be more expensive to run than first past the post - despite the suggestion being furiously rejected by Lib Dems.

"Clearly there would be a cost if we move to a new system," he said. "If we move to a system with voting machines, as I think would be the case, that would be expensive."

He also signalled that a No vote could draw a line under the prospects of electoral reform for the foreseeable future.

"No parliament can bind its successor," Mr Cameron said.

"But I think the arguments will have been had out in public and I hope if the No campaign wins that will be a decisive one."

The comments came after Lib Dem Energy Secretary Chris Huhne used an article in the Observer to call for a "progressive majority" to mobilise against the Tories.

In a piece penned jointly with shadow business secretary John Denham and Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, Mr Huhne wrote: "Britain consistently votes as a centre-left country, and yet the Conservatives have dominated our politics for two thirds of the time since 1900.

"On only two occasions in that long century - 1900 and 1931 - have the Tories won a majority of the votes. No wonder David Cameron says the current system has 'served us well'."

He insisted that "fair votes matter". "They matter for the millions of voters who suffered the worst excesses of the Thatcher government despite more than 54% repeatedly voting against her," he added.

Mr Clegg also told the newspaper he made "no apologies" for hitting back against "yelling and screaming" from the No camp.

"I kept my silence for weeks and weeks and weeks of ludicrous bilge being put out there ... to dupe and scare the British people," he said.

Research by BPIX for the Mail on Sunday found 51% were opposed to the reform, compared with 33% who supported it.

Among those against AV, 32% preferred first past the post because it is simple, 30% because it led to strong governments and 23% because they did not want another coalition.

The Prime Minister's prominent role in the No campaign also appears to have played a crucial role.

One in four said they respected Mr Cameron's view on the issue, compared to just one in 20 who said the same about his Lib Dem deputy.

Interviewed in the Sunday Times, Mr Miliband said: "Cleggmania has turned to Cleggphobia" and the public felt fooled by his claim to be "new and different".

The Yes campaign, which he has strongly backed, had been "massively hindered" by Mr Clegg's insistence on taking a prominent role, according to the Labour leader.

Alongside the referendum, elections are also being held on Thursday in many councils across the country and for devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales.

It is believed to be the biggest mid-term voting test in the UK's history - with all parties bracing themselves for the public's assessment of their performance.

Overall, BPIX put Labour on 42%, the Conservatives on 37% and the Lib Dems on 9%. A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times had Labour on 41%, the Tories on 36% and the Lib Dems on 10%.

Mr Huhne complained that Mr Clegg had been treated "outrageously" by senior Tories - including Mr Cameron - who have warned that AV could result in more broken promises by politicians.

Mr Clegg had done the "right thing" in making compromises on issues such as tuition fees to form the coalition, and did not deserve such "personal attacks".

"For Conservative leaders to give Nick the sort of criticism they have given him as a result is simply outrageous," Mr Huhne told Sky News' Murnaghan programme.

The Cabinet minister dismissed as "nonsense" speculation that his trenchant language is part of manoeuvring for a future leadership bid.

"I would be the first person to defend Nick Clegg," he said. "He is an outstanding politician and he has done what we needed to do."

Mr Huhne upped his assault on the Tories by insisting the party had a track record of resisting reform.

"The Conservative Party has throughout history always opposed changes in the electoral system that gave more power to people," he said.

"Whether it was votes for every man, votes for women."

But despite the tensions, he said after the referendum there would still be a "businesslike relationship" between the coalition partners.

"We have a businesslike relationship," he said. We have a coalition programme that we will go on delivering."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride