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Talks to form next UK govt resume
Published on 10 May. 2010 12:05 AM IST
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Britain’s Conservative and Liberal parties on Sunday resumed urgent talks aimed at forming a new government after the inconclusive general election.
Top-level teams of both parties stressed that the discussions so far between David Cameron’s Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, led by Nick Clegg, had been “constructive.” Late Saturday, the two leaders met face-to-face for the first time since Thursday’s election, which gave neither the Conservatives nor the Labour Party of Prime Minister Gordon Brown an absolute majority.
According to sources, the two sides are aiming to issue, at the least, “some form of statement” on their intended cooperation before markets open on Monday, in order not to add to the jitters already caused by the Greek debt crisis.
“I am keen to play a constructive role at this time of great economic uncertainty to give this country the stable government it deserves,” said Mr. Clegg on Sunday.
Mr. Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats have emerged as the kingmakers in the election, has chosen to speak to the Conservatives first, as the party who emerged from Thursday’s election with the most seats and votes.
The talks are fraught with danger for both sides, given the traditional animosity between the Tories and the left-leaning Liberal Democrats, and their contrasting electorates.
While the talks continue, the Labour Party, which came second in its worst result since 1983, is forced to look on. Mr. Brown, citing Constitutional tradition, says he will stay on as Prime Minister until the situation is resolved.
Should the Conservative-Liberal talks fail, Labour stands ready to talk to Mr. Clegg about a new “progressive alliance.” Labour has made Mr. Clegg a more tempting offer than the Conservatives on a change of the majority electoral system to some form of proportional representation — the Liberals’ key demand.
But the Liberal leader appears to be reluctant to be associated with a government that has been in power for 13 years and could continue to be led by Mr. Brown.
An opinion poll published in the Sunday Times showed that 62 per cent of voters believed Mr. Brown should accept defeat and make way for a new leader as the party no longer had a Parliamentary majority.
Labour MPs urge Brown to quit
Gordon Brown’s hopes of remaining Prime Minister faded last night after a growing number of Labour MPs issued public calls for him to resign for the sake of his party.
Mr Brown is clinging to the hope that David Cameron’s attempt to reach a deal with Nick Clegg will collapse, allowing him to form a new version of the Lib-Lab pact that ended in disaster in 1974.
But Manchester Labour MP Graham Stringer, a long-time critic of Mr Brown, dismissed the notion that he could stay in No 10 by teaming up with Mr Clegg with a promise to change the voting system.
‘The Liberals have been a tail looking for a dog to wag for some time, but there cannot be a deal between the Liberals and Labour over electoral reform,’ said Mr Stringer.
‘There was nothing in our manifesto about it and it would allow the Liberals to put Labour out of office for a generation.’ Mr Stringer said the proposed ‘squalid’ Lib-Lab pact was being promoted by ‘people who are more interested in staying in their ministerial cars than the long-term interests of the party’.
He said only one in four Labour activists supported proportional representation like Mr Clegg – and the PM himself didn’t believe in it.
‘When Gordon Brown promised a vote on electoral reform in February the whips told us – “don’t worry, it’s not going to happen, it will all be lost in the system,”’ said Mr Stringer. ‘And it was, because they know we wouldn’t buy it.’
Still, Liberal Democrat lawmaker Simon Hughes said a deal with Labour Party should not be ruled out.
The talks with the Conservatives are “not the only show in town,” Hughes told Sky News. “Let’s see how today goes, how tomorrow goes. If we can agree we will, if we can’t we move on.”
Clegg, 43, said today the Liberal Democrats would emphasize “the big changes we want.” They include changes to the voting system to give smaller parties greater representation in Parliament, an end to income tax for 3.6 million low earners, a breakup of big banks and cutting school class sizes.
Cameron, who says he wants to stick with Britain’s first- past-the-post voting system, proposed setting up a panel to study an electoral overhaul. Brown offered Clegg an immediate referendum on the issue. The YouGov poll said 62 percent favored a “more proportional” voting system, against 13 percent who opposed it.
There’s a “mountain to climb” to narrow policy differences with Conservatives, former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown said today on the Marr Show before he met Clegg.
Cameron faces pressure from his party, as well, where some lawmakers oppose making concessions.
“I would rather be in a minority government,” said Graham Brady, a Conservative member of Parliament, said. “It’s perfectly reasonable to say we should set out to achieve stability and longevity, but realistically, there’s not much more prospect of whatever arrangement is reached lasting for very long.”
A failure by either Brown or Cameron, 43, to come to terms with potential allies would probably result in Cameron seeking to establish a minority government. Brown, 59, would need an unprecedented four-way alliance including Scottish and Welsh nationalists to stay in power. He thanked Labour campaign workers in an e-mail today.
Brown remains as prime minister until he advises Queen Elizabeth II, as head of state, that he is resigning. As Britain has no written constitution, the 84-year-old monarch is guided by conventions built up over hundreds of years. The main requirement for the queen is to find a political leader who can command the confidence of the House of Commons.
“I am working on the assumption that we are going to have a minority government,” Simon Henig, a lecturer in politics at the University of Sunderland, said in a telephone interview. “There have been no formal deals in Britain apart from episodes during the wars.”

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