Huhne's 'confusion' charge reignites war with Clegg

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The war of words between the two men vying to lead the Liberal Democrats reignited last night as Chris Huhne accused his rival Nick Clegg of "confusion" over school and hospital vouchers.

Mr Clegg has angrily dismissed claims by Mr Huhne that he backed proposals to hand parents vouchers for education. But in a thinly veiled jibe at Mr Clegg, Mr Huhne, the party's environment spokesman, accused him of leaving journalists with the wrong impression about his position.

He said: "I'm glad that Nick has clarified his position in this, because I know what a sensitive area it is within the party and outside. Any leader has to communicate clearly and not leave journalists misunderstanding their meaning.

"If I am your leader there will be no confusion. We will give power to local communities to hold local decision-takers to account, because the only people who can judge services are those who use them."

Mr Clegg said his plans for a "pupil premium" to plough extra funding into the education of the most- deprived pupils did not represent a voucher scheme.

The contest between the two men descended into acrimony when Mr Huhne was forced to apologise for issuing a dossier titled Calamity Clegg, claiming that his rival had "flip-flopped" on policy. But yesterday allies of Mr Clegg said that a line had been drawn under the row.

In the last official hustings of the campaign to succeed Sir Menzies Campbell in central London last night, Mr Clegg told activists he wanted to take the party beyond its position as the third force in British politics.

Allies of Mr Clegg say canvassing shows he is leading Mr Huhne by 60 to 40 among activists, but admit that up to 40 per cent of the 64,000 voting party members remain undecided. A straw poll indicated the race was too close to call.