Tensions mount in Coalition over 'gutter politics' of anti-AV Tories

Cabinet tensions over the electoral reform referendum burst into the open last night after a senior Liberal Democrat minister challenged the Conservative Party chairman to disown the "scaremongering" and "gutter politics" of the "no" campaign. Chris Huhne tore into its claim – reinforced in an advertising campaign – that a "yes" result in the poll on 5 May over replacing the first-past-the-post system with the alternative vote (AV) would cost Britain £250m.

He targeted his anger at his Tory Cabinet colleague, Baroness Warsi, in a bluntly worded letter that exposed the growing strains between the Coalition partners on the issue.

Mr Huhne challenged her, as the Tory chairman and a patron of the "no" campaign, to pull the plug on its "scaremongering and misleading" publicity. He attacked the £250m claim, which has been backed by the message that the money could be used to treat sick babies or buy body armour for soldiers, as the "politics of the gutter".

Mr Huhne, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, wrote: "When David Cameron launched his 'no' campaign, he said this should not be a source of tension between us or risk breaking the Coalition. It won't, if your 'no' camp now withdraws these disgraceful advertisements and campaigns on facts not fears, substance not smears."

Mr Huhne's letter reflects mounting anger among senior Liberal Democrats, including Nick Clegg, about the refusal to withdraw the £250m claim. The "no" campaign says the figure has been calculated from the £150m price of electronic machines to count votes cast under AV, the £82m cost of holding the referendum, and a further £20m-plus expense of publicity campaigns to explain the AV system. The "yes" campaign insists the figures are flawed but a "no" campaign spokesman said it stood by the figures and described Mr Huhne's attack as a "sign of desperation".

The clashes came as both sides step up their campaigns this week. A cross-party rally tomorrow in support of change will feature the Labour leader Ed Miliband, the former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy and the Green Party leader Caroline Lucas. A conspicuous absentee will be Mr Clegg after Mr Miliband refused to share a platform with him. The "yes" campaign said yesterday it has raised £2.5m from 2,725 donors. The largest gift – of £951,000 – came from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.

The "no" campaign will today unveil newspaper advertisements and billboards attacking AV as expensive and a politicians' fix. Yet Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, said yesterday he was "pretty sure" the Coalition would survive, even if the public votes against electoral reform.

But he told the BBC1 Politics Show: "There is a lot at stake and that is why we are fighting hard for it."

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam