British PM blasted as coalition tensions surface
The sense of discord between Britain's governing coalition parties grew on Sunday as Deputy PM Nick Clegg launched a direct blast at Prime Minister David Cameron.
The Liberal Democrat leader accused the Conservative Party chief of "defending the indefensible" ahead of the May 5 referendum on Britain's voting system.
Clegg's Liberals want to switch to the alternative vote (AV) method, whereby voters rank candidates, while the Conservatives back the current first past the post system, where one candidate is chosen.
The referendum was part of the deal which tempted the Lib Dems into forming a coalition with the Conservatives, who otherwise would have formed a less-stable minority government following last May's general election.
Clegg told The Independent on Sunday newspaper that the No to AV campaign had been based on "lies, misinformation and deceit" and that he hoped it would mark the final "death rattle of a right wing elite".
The difference of opinion over AV has seen key figures openly sniping at their coalition partners. By convention, cabinet ministers do not criticise one another in public.
Some left-leaners in the centrist Lib Dems seem uncomfortable about being in coalition with the centre-right Conservatives, notably Business Secretary Vince Cable and environment minister Chris Huhne.
Meanwhile the Conservative right are fuming at having to water down Tory policies to accommodate the Lib Dems.
With one side certain to face public defeat in the referendum, political observers will be watching to see what impact the result has on coalition unity.
Clegg accused Cameron of aligning himself with "reactionary interests" -- from the far-right British National Party to the Communists -- in opposing the introduction of AV.
"The other side, you'd have David Cameron, (BNP leader) Nick Griffin and whoever leads the Communist Party. Now that tells you volumes about the very reactionary interests that are defending the indefensible," he said.
Despite their convivial joint appearances, Clegg insisted that he and Cameron were not "mates".
"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 said.
Asked if he was referring to Cameron, he replied: "I include all those, and of course it includes the Conservative Party, who like this nice little racket: they get a job for life and they waft into power and they don't even need to bother to try to get a majority of people on side."
Besides the referendum, voters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be electing new members to their devolved administrations.
However, the election campaigns have been largely eclipsed in British media by Friday's forthcoming wedding between Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton.
© 2011 AFP