UK Politics

AV referendum: Ashdown attacks Tory 'breach of faith'

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Media captionLord Ashdown on the BBC's Question Time: "I don't believe you can trust Labour on reform"

Former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown has accused the Tories of a "breach of faith" over the AV referendum campaign.

He told the Guardian the coalition had been "lubricated by a large element of goodwill and trust. It is not any longer."

But on the BBC's Question Time, he also attacked Labour, saying the party had "reneged on the business of reform".

Counting begins on Friday afternoon in the referendum to decide how MPs should be elected to Parliament.

Polls suggest voters will reject a switch from first-past-the-post, where voters put a cross next to their favourite candidate, to the alternative vote, where candidates are ranked in order of preference.

PM 'panicked'

Counting does not start until 1600 BST on Friday, with the result expected around 2000 BST.

The referendum was a key agreement when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats went into coalition following last year's general election.

The Conservatives back first-past-the-post while the Lib Dems have been campaigning for AV.

In an interview with the Guardian, Lord Ashdown said Prime Minister David Cameron had "panicked in the face of right wingers" in his party.

He accused the Conservative leader of having failed to disassociate himself from personal attacks by the No campaign on Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and said Lib Dems were "exceedingly angry" about it.

Lord Ashdown said he believed that Mr Cameron had made a private agreement with Mr Clegg about the way the fight over the future of the electoral system would be conducted, and there had been a "breach of faith".

He said: "If the Conservative party funds to the level of 99% a campaign whose central theme is to denigrate and destroy our leader, there are consequences for that.

"What that means is that this is a relationship that is much less about congeniality, it becomes a business relationship, a transactional relationship, and maybe it will be all the better for that."

The prime minister has said he was responsible for the Conservative campaign to keep the current voting system, not the wider cross party No campaign.

On BBC One's Question Time, Lord Ashdown said Labour would be to blame, if the referendum results in a "no" vote.

Big majority

He said: "If we are to lose this vote, it is because the Labour Party has reneged on the business of reform. Their vote has been divided and I don't believe you can trust Labour on reform, that's the truth of it."

Labour broke a 1997 manifesto pledge to hold a referendum on changing the electoral system following its landslide general election victory.

Party leader Ed Miliband told the BBC this week the party "should have" done more on electoral reform when it was in power but admitted they had "too big a majority".

He also pointed out that Labour had been split over the issue of AV for "about 80 years".

Mr Miliband backs AV, but many senior politicians in his own party have campaigned against it.

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