Business Secretary Vince Cable has slammed the Conservatives, branding them “ruthless, calculating and thoroughly tribal”.
In the wake of the humiliation handed out to Liberal Democrats in the elections and the referendum on voting reform, Mr Cable said the coalition would continue in a “businesslike” fashion, but made clear that Liberal Democrats would not accept policies which go beyond last year's agreement with Tories — such as proposals for NHS reform.
Mr Cable said: “Some of us never had many illusions about the Conservatives, but they have emerged as ruthless, calculating and thoroughly tribal.
“But that doesn't mean to say we can't work with them. I think they have always been that way, but you have to be businesslike and professional and you have to work with people who aren't your natural bedfellows and that is being grown-up in politics. We are going to continue to do that.”
Mr Cable added: “We have a coalition agreement which is a very good agreement and which is balanced and which we have to deliver and that is the text around which we should operate in future, while not losing sight of the purpose of the coalition, which is to sort out this economic mess.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg have insisted their coalition will continue despite the Lib Dems’ heavy defeats .
Voters decisively rejected Lib Dem-backed proposals to change the way MPs are elected while the party lost over 700 councillors in England and haemorrhaged support to the Scottish National Party north of the border.
The Deputy Prime Minister admitted the results were “a bitter blow” for Lib Dems.
Grassroots calls for Mr Clegg to be removed as leader were quickly slapped down by senior Lib Dem figures at Westminster.
Mr Cameron accepted the referendum campaign had been “difficult” for the Government, but he added: “The coalition agreement set out that we were going to ask the British people a very straightforward question and they have given the most clear and resounding answer.
“I believe that what the British people want us to do now is to provide a good, strong, decisive Government in the long-term national interest of this country, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats working together. That is what we have been for this last year and that is what we are going to be for the rest of this Parliament.”
Responding to the AV vote, Mr Clegg said: “This is a bitter blow for all those people — like me — who believe in the need for political reform. But the answer is clear and the wider job of the Government and the Liberal Democrats in Government will continue — to repair the economy, to restore a sense of prosperity and jobs and optimism to the country. That's the job that we have started and we will see it through.
“Clearly this has been a really disappointing day and we have had a lot of very disappointing results overnight, but we are going to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and move on.”
After all referendum results had been declared, 13 million people (67.9%) had voted to keep the first-past-the-post system to elect MPs, against 6.1 million (32.1%) backing the alternative vote.
And with results available from 279 English councils, the Lib Dems had lost 752 seats.