AV vote 'will not end coalition'
The voting reform referendum will not spell the end of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted as the parties engaged in an increasingly bitter debate.
With less than two weeks until the May 5 poll, he waded into the row over campaign funding, backing Chancellor George Osborne against Lib Dem claims he was trying to "scare" voters.
Securing a referendum on whether to abandon the first-past-the-post system for electing MPs in favour of the Alternative Vote (AV) was the key concession wrung by the Lib Dems as part of the coalition deal.
Speaking on the Murnaghan show on Sky News, Mr Cameron said: "I profoundly believe a 'no' vote is the right answer. We have got a system that is effective, that is simple, that is fair, that works, that is used by half the world and we shouldn't swap it for a system that is unfair and used by just a handful of countries and that is much more complicated. It should be a reasonable argument on both sides."
Asked if victory could destroy the power-sharing deal, he said: "Whatever the result on May 5, this is a five-year Government, Nick and I are absolutely committed to taking the Government and its programme forward. Whoever is on the losing side as it were will just have to pick themselves up and say: well, it was a fair argument, a fair fight, a fair referendum, the country has decided and now we have got to get on with all the things that really matter so much."
Mr Cameron said Mr Osborne had simply been stating "fact" when he suggested that the commercial arm of the 'yes' campaign's biggest financial backer stood to profit from a switch to AV.
Electoral Reform Services Limited - which gives some of its profits from helping run ballots to 'yes' campaign backer the Electoral Reform Society - firmly denies any such conflict of interest.
In a vituperative attack on the Chancellor, Lord Ashdown said his strategy "stinks of the same odour which has surrounded our politics recently" and accused him of hiding the facts from voters.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said there was "a lot of mudslinging going on and a lot of far-fetched claims being made". He used an interview on BBC1's Politics Show to say changing the system would get rid of MPs in "safe" seats who "don't actually reach out to the community as a whole". People wanted the system "cleaned up" after the Westminster expenses scandal, he said.
"They want a system, which I think would be delivered by AV, which is fairer, which makes MPs work harder for your vote, which makes every vote count. It would turn a page on a system where at the moment you have two thirds of MPs who do not represent a majority of their constituents. Most people now are represented by MPs who most people didn't vote for or voted against. That cannot be fair or democratic."