Huhne tells Cameron: stop vote reform 'lies' or you'll split the Coalition

Environment Secretary warns Prime Minister there will be 'a lot of bad feeling' in Government if referendum fight isn't fair

A Liberal democrat Cabinet minister has warned David Cameron that the "outrageous" Conservative-led No campaign ahead of next month's referendum on the voting system risks inflicting permanent damage on the Coalition.

Chris Huhne, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, told The Independent that the Prime Minister should intervene to stop the No camp telling "downright lies". He cited its claims that a switch to the alternative vote (AV) would require electronic counting machines and cost £250m that could be spent on vital public services.

"There is no truth whatever in these outrageous allegations," he said. "It is absolutely astonishing that it could come from our Coalition partners. I fear it could damage the Coalition and diminish the respect his Coalition partners have for him [Mr Cameron]. There is no doubt that if you behave in a thoroughly reprehensible and underhand manner you are going to lose the respect of people."

Asked whether the increasingly bitter referendum campaign could shorten the planned five-year life of the Coalition, Mr Huhne replied that he could not make predictions about the future and that the two parties still "have a job of work to do".

But he warned that there would be "a lot of bad feeling" after the 5 May referendum unless there was a "fair fight", saying the two Coalition parties should observe a political equivalent of boxing's Queensberry rules. He accused the No camp of resorting to "out of order" behaviour that went "way beyond the normal cut and thrust of a general election campaign. I cannot remember a campaign where one side resorted to such underhand tactics."

Mr Huhne rejected Mr Cameron's claim that he was responsible for the Conservative No campaign but not the wider No campaign. Describing the latter as a "Conservative front organisation", he said "all the moving parts" – such as the funding and the people running it – came from the Tories.

"The only way you can explain why the Conservatives are acting in this way is desperation. They are clearly very worried about losing the vote," said Mr Huhne. "It seems the Conservatives are prepared to say virtually anything to try to win it." He said the Tories had enjoyed power for about two-thirds of the 20th century under first-past-the-post, even though they had won more than 50 per cent of the votes on only two occasions and did not want to see that dominance threatened in the 21st century.

As tensions between the Tories and Liberal Democrats over AV reached a new high, Lord (Paddy) Ashdown urged Mr Cameron to call off the No camp's personal attacks on Nick Clegg, who has featured heavily in its propaganda. The former Liberal Democrat leader told the BBC the No campaign had become "appallingly personal" and "no British prime minister" should be linked to it. He was "very, very angry" about the "Conservative Party money and the dinosaurs of Labour who are attacking the man holding the Coalition together".

He added: "This has become a deeply and appallingly personal campaign. It's centred on one personality and that is Nick Clegg. If he [Mr Cameron] wants to take a high-profile lead in this campaign, let him do so on the basis it is conducted with honesty and decency."

Urging Mr Cameron to intervene, Lord Ashdown said his continuing backing for the No campaign's tactics would inevitably damage "personal relations" within the Government.

Downing Street insisted that Mr Cameron is concentrating on the arguments against AV. A spokesman said: "The Conservative Party is running its own No to AV campaign. This is focused on highlighting how unfair and unpopular the AV system is and why people should vote No. It is a system that is obscure, unfair and expensive and could mean that people who come third in elections end up winning. It is not attacking Nick Clegg."

Jane Kennedy, a former Labour MP who is national director of the No to AV campaign, called Lord Ashdown's attack on the No camp an "astonishing outburst" and claimed that the Liberal Democrats had "perfected the technique" of conducting personally abusive campaigns. She claimed that it was the fact that Mr Clegg had "traded away his pledge" on tuition fees that was turning people "away from the case for change".

Clegg forgoes £38,000 profit

Nick Clegg has set an example to MPs still profiting from the old rules on expenses. He sold his Sheffield home for £325,000 and gave the £38,750 profit to the taxpayer, although he did not need to. Mr Clegg lives in London but rents a home in Sheffield. A rule allowing MPs claim for mortgage payments on second homes has been scrapped.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine