DAVID Cameron and Nick Clegg have traded blows over electoral reform as the referendum battle began in earnest.
The Prime Minister warned that introducing the alternative vote (AV) system would be “a massive backward step for accountability and trust in our politics”.
But his Liberal Democrat deputy insisted it is the only way to tackle corruption at Westminster and prevent millions of voters being “ignored”.
The coalition allies used speeches delivered hours apart to fire their first salvoes in the campaign, but both men stressed the result of the ballot on May 5 is not make-or-break for the Government.
However, there were early signs of the potential tensions when Mr Cameron took Mr Clegg to task for supporting AV after previously branding it a “miserable little compromise”. Despite senior Tories and Lib Dems extolling the virtues of coalition over the past nine months, the premier also expressed concern that hung parliaments would become “commonplace”.
“It won’t surprise you to hear me say that is not necessarily a bad thing and that, as happened last May, it can bring parties together in the national interest,” he told an audience in central London.
“But let’s be clear, when there are more hung parliaments there will be more haggling and horsetrading between politicians - both before and after elections. There could well be an occasion where we have a genuine second-choice government.
“If the last election was under AV, there would be the chance, right now, that Gordon Brown would still be prime minister.” He said although the first-past-the-post system had not delivered a decisive verdict at the last election “in terms of who won”, it was “decisive in terms of who lost”.
Speaking in Leeds earlier, Mr Clegg blamed the existing voting system for encouraging politicians to abuse expenses. “For years, politicians and parties have courted the votes of a few thousand people in marginal seats and ignored the rest,” he said.
“It is because there are so many MPs with jobs for life that there are so many who can take their constituents for granted. And it is because there were so many MPs taking their constituents for granted that so many abused their expenses.”