The coalition will survive whatever the result of next week's elections and the referendum on voting reform, Defence Secretary Liam Fox insisted today.
The increasing vitriol of attacks between coalition partners over the Alternative Vote has sparked speculation that the year-old Government could be torn apart by Thursday's result.
But Dr Fox today insisted that the coalition was dealing with a "national economic emergency" which took precedence over any disagreements over AV.
The Defence Secretary - who describes himself as an "unreconstructed, free-market, unionist, eurosceptic Atlanticist" - is regarded by some on the Tory right who are disgruntled with the coalition Government as a standard-bearer within the administration for traditional Conservatism.
But at a Westminster lunch today, he made clear he regards the cross-party partnership as essential: "The coalition needs to exist because there is a national economic emergency.
"Whatever happens on polling day next week, that deficit and that economic emergency will still be there the week after and we will still need the coalition to continue to enable us to deal with that problem."
Dr Fox said that when he was asked whether the coalition Cabinet "all love one another", he pointed out that there was no shortage of personal animosities within the Thatcher, Major and Blair administrations.
"The thing is will it work, can we work together?" he said. "And the answer is yes, we will, because we have to work together.
"Before anyone writes premature obituaries for the coalition Government, you need to understand how much we believe in the need for the coalition to exist, to continue.
"For me and for many of my Cabinet colleagues we want to be able to put our hands on our hearts and say that we genuinely brought a change to British politics where politicians didn't govern in their own interests but in the national interest. If we do, that will be a vindication of everything we have done in the last year and hopefully that the coalition will do in the next four."
Dr Fox, who stood against David Cameron for the Conservative leadership in 2005, made clear he had no desire to head the coalition Government and believed he would not be the right person to do so.
But he sidestepped the question of whether he still had ambitions to lead his party and become prime minister, saying only that he was "exhausted just being Defence Secretary".
Dr Fox said: "I think the way that David Cameron is leading the coalition is with a skill that very few others would necessarily have had. I don't think I would have the skill to be able to deal with the personalities and complexities and issues of the coalition with the sensitivity and professionalism David Cameron has shown.
"While I put my case forward at the time, I have to say that given the way that our political system delivered us the result it did, I think my party made the right choice."Reuse content