Miliband brands Clegg a 'vote-loser' as AV vote row gets personal

Andrew Grice
Tuesday 15 March 2011 01:00
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Relations between Labour and the Liberal Democrats were back in the deep freeze yesterday after Ed Miliband branded Nick Clegg a vote-loser and refused to share a platform with him. Liberal Democrats accused Labour of "student politics" after Mr Miliband declined to appear alongside Mr Clegg at a rally to campaign for a Yes vote in the May referendum on electoral reform. Both leaders support a switch to the alternative vote (AV) and, despite Labour's anger at the Liberal Democrats for entering into a coalition with the Conservatives, figures in both parties who want to keep alive the prospect of a Lib-Lab deal after the 2015 election had hoped that co-operation on electoral reform might break the ice. Mr Miliband had agreed to share a platform with the former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, but pulled out after Mr Clegg insisted on taking part. Today's rally has now been called off.

Labour is worried that a high-profile role for Mr Clegg could harm the Yes campaign, but their squabble is a setback for supporters of change.

Yesterday, Mr Miliband said Mr Clegg was "the last thing" the Yes campaign needed. He told a press conference: "The best thing Nick Clegg can do, to be frank, if he wants a Yes vote in the referendum is to lie low for a bit.

"I'm not going to share a platform with Nick Clegg, because I don't think he will help us win the referendum.

"What is the problem about Nick Clegg? Where do you start? He was the person who promised new politics. And the brief bout of Cleggmania that there was, was supposed to be about new politics. I'm afraid he has become the exemplar of old politics; of breaking your promises." A Liberal Democrat source replied later: "This is student politics. We are supposed to be on the same side, but the only people this helps is the No camp."

Last year Mr Miliband hinted that he would campaign alongside Mr Clegg, but he has changed his mind. More than 100 Labour MPs have come out in support of the first-past-the-post system.

The public differences emerged as Labour spelled out its alternative plans for the economy ahead of the Budget a week tomorrow.

Mr Miliband and the shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, proposed a £2bn windfall tax on this year's bank bonuses, to fund 25,000 new homes at a cost of £1.2bn and generate 20,000 jobs in the construction industry. A further £600m could be used to create a fund for youth jobs, helping 90,000 into work and apprenticeships, while another £200m would boost the regional growth fund.

Both Mr Miliband and Mr Balls stuck to the former Chancellor Alistair Darling's policy aiming to halve the budget deficit over four years.

Mr Miliband said: "We are under no illusions at this stage that this government will abandon its deficit-reduction plan – it is too dug in for that. But at least it should take some steps to deal with faltering growth in our economy."

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