Lib Dems attack Conservatives over vote reform


RELATIONS BETWEEN the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have nosedived following bitter attacks by the smaller coalition partner on the Conservatives over its campaign to defeat a referendum to reform House of Commons election rules.

Voters in the United Kingdom will decide on May 5th whether they should replace the existing first-past-the-post election system with the alternative vote (AV), though the latest opinion polls indicate that the push for AV led by the Liberal Democrats will be defeated.

However, the increasingly prominent role being taken in the No campaign by prime minister David Cameron has angered the Liberal Democrats, who believe that they had an understanding that he would stay on the sidelines.

Equally, they are furious at the chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne and foreign secretary William Hague for their claims that the introduction of AV would require the purchase of £150 million worth of voting machines.

Leading the Liberal Democrats’ fury yesterday, energy secretary Chris Huhne said: “It is, frankly, worrying if you have colleagues who you’ve respected and who you’ve worked well with who are making claims which have no foundation in truth whatsoever.”

Saying that he believed the campaign is “getting nasty”, Mr Huhne went on: “I think it’s a bit of a shock frankly for those of us who’ve been working very happily and well together in the coalition for some time to find that our coalition partners are resorting to claims which are completely untrue.”

Conservative Party co-chairwoman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has repeatedly said AV would benefit fringe parties such as the far-right British National Party – though she does not point out that the BNP actually wants first-past-the-post to survive.

Equally, the claims by the No2AV campaign, which is largely funded by Conservative backers, though it includes some leading Labour figures, such as Lord Reid, that votes in Australia – which has used AV for 80 years – are counted by machines are also incorrect.

Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes accused the baroness of “inventing facts”, adding that the Electoral Commission could “look into these things” and find that the No campaign has been dishonest – though there is no possibility of that happening before May 5th.

Under AV, voters would still elect one MP for each constituency, listing their preferences in order.

Lower candidates are eliminated until one candidate secures 50 per cent of the vote. Last year, more than 400 of the 650 MPs chosen were elected with less than half of the vote.

Defending the Conservatives’ campaign, Mr Hague said that he believed that Baroness Warsi had been right to say that counting machines would be needed “because what do you do in a system where there are third and fourth preferences?”

Entering into the fray, Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said that the Yes campaign has “had to fight a campaign against a headwind of lies, misinformation and deceit, and that’s been tough on them”.

Putting distance between himself and Mr Cameron, with whom he is seen to be too close by many in own ranks, the deputy prime minister said, “We’re not mates”, but rather politicians joined together in an “unsentimental transaction”.

“This nasty No campaign, I hope, will prove to be the death rattle of a right-wing elite, a right-wing clique who want to keep things the way they are.

“That’s why they are lashing out,” he told the Independent on Sunday.