Lib Dems: 'Corrupt system elected Thatcher'

The war of words over electoral reform flared up further today as a senior Liberal Democrat branded first-past-the-post a "corrupt" system which had allowed Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government to practise "organised wickedness" in the 1980s.

Lib Dem president Tim Farron's comments, a week ahead of the May 5 referendum on the Alternative Vote, were the latest in a series of increasingly vicious attacks directed by the coalition partners at one another.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg shared the Government frontbenches in the Commons today for the first time following an Easter break marked by open warfare between their parties on AV.

But there was little attempt to stage a show of coalition unity, with a stony-faced Mr Clegg shaking his head as the Prime Minister restated his opposition to change, then grinning broadly at Lib Dem jibes over Mr Cameron's election as Tory leader under a voting system with similarities to AV.

Meanwhile, Labour splits over the issue came to the fore, with the release of a dossier suggesting that more than half of the party's MPs intend to vote No next Thursday, despite their leader Ed Miliband's support for AV.

Many Labour opponents of AV - under which voters rank candidates in order of preference and votes are redistributed until one has more than 50% support - wore red badges in the House of Commons to show their support for the current system.

Former home secretary David Blunkett said that the Labour No campaign had the declared support of 130 of the party's 255 MPs and four in five of those councillors who have expressed a preference, as well as tens of thousands of activists.

"The Labour Party doesn't have a formal position but it's clear that the overwhelming majority of Labour people up and down the country are saying 'Vote Labour, vote No to AV'," said Mr Blunkett.

But another ex-home secretary Alan Johnson joined Mr Farron and the leaders of Ukip and the Greens at a press conference calling for a Yes vote.

Denouncing first-past-the-post as a "miserably disempowering system that belongs in the past", Mr Johnson said: "Labour should not become part of the establishment view. It is against our history, it is against our principles, it is against our ethos."

Mr Farron described the Thatcher administration of the 1980s as "a government opposed by the majority, elected by a corrupt electoral system that predates the empire, predates slavery and which, incidentally, helped to sustain both".

The only people with an interest in blocking reform were an MP in a safe seat "who doesn't want to do any work", a party leader who wanted to "invade Iraq without a democratic mandate", or a press baron looking to control information, he said.

In response to Mr Farron's comments, the No camp pointed to academic studies which suggested Labour would have gained 19 fewer seats in 1983 and 27 fewer in 1987 under AV - mostly at the expense of the third party.

The No campaign's vice-chair, ex-Labour MP Joan Ryan, accused the Lib Dem president of making a "crude bid for Labour support".

"This is another pathetic example of the senior Liberal Democrats running the Yes campaign trying to skew the facts to fit their false arguments," she said.

At Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons, Mr Cameron urged campaigners to "get back to the real arguments about competing electoral systems".

As the Deputy Prime Minister shook his head on the front bench beside him, Mr Cameron said: "I am very clear that first past the post is simple, is fair, is effective, has worked for our country."

Lib Dem MP Ian Swales sparked cheers from AV supporters when he pointed out that Mr Cameron owed his position to a 2005 leadership ballot in which rival David Davis won the first round of voting among Tory MPs before being overhauled in two later rounds.

In his opposition to AV, Mr Cameron has shown "special disdain for the idea that someone might win after coming second in an early round" and should therefore stand aside in Mr Davis's favour, suggested the Redcar MP.

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
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
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

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice