Clegg launches AV campaign as Ed Miliband promises to ‘punish’ him

By Ian Dunt

Nick Clegg has launched the ‘yes’ campaign for the AV referendum amid ever more angry attacks from Ed Miliband.

The Labour leadership candidate, who has built his campaign on his ability to attract votes from the Liberal Democrats, said he would “make sure he is punished at the ballot box” for joining government with the Conservatives.

Holding an opening rally at the Lib Dem conference in Liverpool this afternoon, Mr Clegg admitted some party members were uncomfortable in coalition.

“I know that being in this coalition still isn’t always easy,” he conceded.

“We are a party that has always advocated pluralism – believing that politics can be better when different parties work together.

“But that doesn’t mean that the nervousness some of us felt about going into government this has disappeared over night. The different impulses that, for many people here, pulled heads one way and hearts another, haven’t simply vanished,” he continued.

“But we’ve done something bold, exciting and unexpected. And, as a result, Liberal Democrats, things will never be the same for our party again.”

Mr Clegg went on to deliver a passionate defense of AV, the voting system which will be put to a referendum next spring.

“I know AV may not be the favourite voting system of everyone here, but whether you prefer this, AV+, the single transferable vote or any another model, we all agree that AV is infinitely fairer than what we have at the moment,” he said.

“‘First past the post’ is not fit for purpose. It is a relic that deserves to be consigned to the past. Good MPs have nothing to fear from AV. Only those that take their constituents for granted do.”

The speech was met with anger by Labour sources, who still feel Mr Clegg sold out his principles when he agreed to the Tories’ deficit reduction plan. Ed Miliband went further than most with a remarkable outburst against the deputy prime minister.

“Nick Clegg has taken the Lib Dems in a direction that they may never recover from,” Ed Miliband said.

“Nick Clegg has sold out to the Tories, and I will lead a Labour party that makes sure he is punished at the ballot box for it.”

The Lib Dem conference will go on through the early part of next week.