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Cameron tells coalition parties: work together
LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron called on MPs in his fractious coalition on Sunday to put aside differences over issues such as Europe and work together in the national interest, warning them against "division and navel gazing".
Writing in the Sunday Times after a week of high-profile disagreements between members of his Conservative party and their Liberal Democrat partners over parliamentary reform cast doubt over the coalition's future, Cameron said the alliance was secure.
Four days ago a revolt by 91 Conservatives forced him to drop a crucial vote on reforming parliament's unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords, a key Lib Dem demand which raised suggestions the fragile coalition could collapse.
"Some people reacted to last week's vote on the House of Lords by saying the coalition could - or should - end soon," Cameron wrote. "I take completely the opposite view."
The two parties formed the coalition in 2010, promising to govern together until 2015, after parliamentary elections produced no outright winner.
Strains on the partnership have increased, some Conservatives believing the Lib Dems are slowing their reform agenda and wanting Cameron to prevent greater British integration with the European Union, while their partners remain strongly pro-European.
"The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives agree on virtually nothing and to keep us together now is pointless because we've put in place all the measures to solve the economic crisis," Conservative lawmaker Peter Bone told Reuters this week.
Media reports said Cameron had reacted furiously to the rebellion over House of Lords reform, which damaged his authority and added to questions over his leadership raised by a string of policy U-turns on taxes and other issues and his embarrassing ties to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp media empire.
In the newspaper article, he said it would be "insulting the public's intelligence" to pretend the coalition parties agreed on everything, citing Europe and human rights issues.
But he said the government had far more important issues to deal with, such as reigniting a faltering economy that is back in recession and addressing the crisis in the euro zone.
"People see riots and financial instability across Europe on the news. They will tolerate tough choices if they see that you stand up for the right things together," he wrote. "But they will not tolerate division and navel gazing."
Both parties have suffered in opinion polls as the government pushes ahead with austerity measures and the economy shrinks, prompting some MPs in both parties to air their differences more stridently.
Former Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell said his party would think twice about supporting Conservative plans to re-draw parliamentary constituencies, which would help Cameron's party, if they reneged on the pledge to reform the House of Lords.
He told BBC TV the idea that Lib Dem MPs would back proposals which might affect them adversely is one "which may be very hard to swallow".
"I don't believe that it can be expected that we will simply form up in the way some people think," he said. But the public would not be impressed by any party that brought down the coalition and forced an election, he added.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, a Conservative, said he had no doubt the coalition would survive until 2015.
"When we face the economic crisis that we are facing across the whole of Europe, the country needs strong government," he told BBC TV. "Those are the shared values that underpin the coalition."
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