DAVID Cameron and Nick Clegg insisted the coalition would weather increasingly bitter clashes over electoral reform as the campaign entered its final stretch.
But the Prime Minister also risked inflaming tensions by repeating claims that switching to the Alternative Vote (AV) could require expensive counting machines – a suggestion dismissed as a “lie” by Lib Dems.
Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne lambasted the Tory leadership for making “outrageous” personal attacks on Mr Clegg.
The interventions came with Labour leader Ed Miliband already seemingly positioning himself for what polls predict will be a resounding No verdict on Thursday.
Mr Miliband complained that Mr Clegg had been a “massive hindrance” to the Yes campaign, and even questioned why the referendum was being given such priority given the country’s other issues.
“I think that Nick Clegg is part of the problem that we face,” he told the BBC’s Politics Show. “I think the country will be bemused, frankly, how both sides have got so hot under the collar about an issue that I do care about and I think is important, but it is not top of most people’s lives at the moment.”
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, the Deputy Prime Minister conceded it was proving difficult to persuade people to “move with the times”.
But Mr Clegg said the royal wedding had been taking much of the public’s attention, and it was too early to start a “post-mortem” of the campaign.
“A lot of people probably haven’t quite focused on it yet. I think there is a lot to play for between now and Thursday,” he insisted.
Asked whether his personal standing was harming the chances of a Yes victory, Mr Clegg replied: “It is far more important than any of us.
“It is far more important than the coalition government.”
Despite previously condemning those behind the No campaign as a “right-wing clique”, the Liberal Democrat leader said he did not want to “personalise” the issue.
But he accused opponents of trying to “sow confusion” and peddling “ludicrous bilge”. “Those who want to argue against change will try to amplify the fears,” he added.
Appearing on the same programme, Mr Cameron said the Government would keep working together constructively regardless of the outcome.
“We are doing that already,” he said. “We had a very successful Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, we will be having another Cabinet meeting this Tuesday. The business of government goes on.”
However, the premier showed no signs of toning down his assault on AV. He repeated claims that the system would be more expensive to run than first past the post – despite Lib Dem Energy Secretary Chris Huhne previously branding the suggestion a “lie” and threatening legal action.
He also signalled that a No vote could draw a line under the prospects of electoral reform for the foreseeable future.
Mr Huhne used an article in the Observer to call for a “progressive majority” to mobilise against the Tories in a piece penned jointly with shadow business secretary John Denham and Green Party leader Caroline Lucas.
He insisted that “fair votes matter”. “They matter for the millions of voters who suffered the worst excesses of the Thatcher government despite more than 54 per cent repeatedly voting against her,” he added.
In another television interview, Mr Huhne accused the Conservatives of habitually resisting reform. “The Conservative Party has throughout history always opposed changes in the electoral system that gave more power to people,” he said.
“Whether it was votes for every man, votes for women.”
Despite the tensions, he stressed that after the referendum there would still be a “businesslike relationship” between the coalition partners.
“We have a coalition programme that we will go on delivering,” he said.
Recent polls found 51 per cent were opposed to AV, compared to 33 per cent in favour.
MARR TEASED OVER SUPER-INJUNCTION
BBC presenter Andrew Marr endured an uncomfortable return to the screen following his disclosure that he took out a super-injunction to prevent reporting of an affair.
Marr said Parliament would have to look at the issue of injunctions as he was ribbed by guests during the newspaper review section of his TV programme.
Marr, the corporation’s former political editor, won a High Court order in January 2008 to silence the press following his extra-marital affair with another national newspaper reporter.
Marr revealed the existence of the injunction last week and said he now felt “uneasy” about taking out the order to protect his family.