Ashdown told the Guardian: ‘The bottom line is that Liberal Democrats are exceedingly angry. We believe there has been a breach of faith here. 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.’
Ashdown’s words follow the No to AV campaign’s personalised attacks on Clegg, accusing him of broken promises on tuition fees and spending cuts.
Bell Pottinger Public Affairs chairman Peter Bingle responded to Ashdown’s words: ‘The British public don't like bad losers. Lord Ashdown's comments are a mistake. The Lib Dems are having a bad time. This is hardly surprising and wise heads understand that.
‘The way to turn things round is to make a success of the coalition. Attacking the PM and crying foul over the AV campaign are all rather pathetic. In politics nothing is fair. This is the time for Lord Ashdown to be silent.’
However, Portland partner George Pascoe-Watson said that the attack amounted to ‘fairly smart press handling’ by the Lib Dems.
He said: ‘It was a reasonable idea to wheel out Paddy Ashdown to say what they are all thinking. They also knew that sounding off to The Guardian and Times would guarantee the splash in the first editions, before results started coming in.’
Pascoe-Watson added that he did not think the attack would damage Cameron and Clegg’s relationship as they have ‘chemistry’.
Freelance public affairs consultant Lionel Zetter said that Clegg turned to Ashdown to express his frustration because ‘he cannot trust some of his senior colleagues, who are already manoeuvring for his job’.
‘Both Cameron and Clegg were under pressure from their own parties to take the gloves off in the AV campaign. The difference is that the Lib Dems were between a rock and a hard place. The rock was the complicated and illogical nature of AV, and the hard place is government,’ added Zetter.