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Coalition strained as more Lib Dems voice criticisms

Three Liberal Democrat ministers have criticised the Government's decision to cut child benefit and lifted the lid on tensions between them and their Conservative Coalition partners.

Like Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, the three ministers were recorded by The Daily Telegraph when they opened up to journalists posing as constituents at their surgeries, the newspaper reports today. Their remarks cast fresh doubts over the public unity of the Coalition and are bound to raise fears among senior Tories that the Liberal Democrats cannot be trusted.

Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary, described the decision to axe child benefit for higher-rate taxpayers as "blatantly not a consistent and fair thing to do". He described his decision to support the hike in university tuition fees as committing the "worst crime a politician can commit, the reason most folk distrust us as a breed". He said it was "the biggest, ugliest, most horrific thing in all of this... a car crash, a train wreck".

Mr Moore said he could not work with politicians such as Dr Liam Fox, the Tory Defence Secretary, "for very long". He claimed the Coalition had "marginalised" the Tory right wing, who, he said, "hate us with a passion – and I can't say it's unreciprocated".

Ed Davey, the Business Minister, described the child benefit announcement as "dreamt up out of the blue". He said curbs to housing benefit would "put people below the breadline" and he could not support several proposed changes. Steve Webb, the Pensions Minister, disclosed he had written privately to the Chancellor to complain about the child benefit cut.