Battered British ruling party eyes deal to stay in power

7th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Senior Cabinet ministers from Britain's ruling Labour party suggested a possible deal with the Liberal Democrats to keep the Conservatives out of office Friday, following knife-edge polls.

Even though exit polls suggest that Labour came second to the Conservatives in the number of seats won, it pointed to a hung parliament in which Prime Minister Gordon Brown would get the first chance to form a government.

Peter Mandelson, Brown's de facto deputy, gave the closest sign yet Labour was mulling a deal with the Liberal Democrats to keep power in the first hung parliament since 1974.

When asked about whether Labour could form an alliance with the Liberal Democrats to stay in power, Mandelson said on Sky News: "You don't have to sound quite so horrified. Obviously we would be prepared to consider that."

He also stressed that the constitutional position was "very clear", adding: "The rules are that if it's a hung parliament, it's not the party with the largest number of seats that has first go -- it's the sitting government."

But asked if Brown would have to step down as part of the deal, he added only: "They would have to express that view in the first place and that hasn't happened."

Mandelson had earlier said: "I have no problem in principle in trying to supply this country with a strong and stable government."

The Conservatives had 305 seats, 21 short of an overall majority of 326, Labour had 255 and the Liberal Democrats 61, according to the exit poll for broadcasters.

If Labour teamed up with the Liberal Democrats, they would still be short of the 326 clear majority but could broker additional support from fringe parties.

Centre-left Labour and the centrist Liberal Democrats are seen as more natural bedfellows than the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Clegg said last week that Labour and his party were "two wings of a progressive tradition in British politics".

And many Labour supporters disillusioned by the government's support for the Iraq war switched their support to the Liberal Democrats at the last general election in 2005.

Energy Secretary Ed Miliband, seen as one of Brown's closest allies, told Sky news that an alliance between the two parties was possible.

"Clearly, that's one possibility. Those discussions would have to take place between Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg," he said.

Former Cabinet minister David Blunkett told the BBC: "My instinct is that we have very regrettably lost the election but we should go for uniting the anti-Conservative forces."

And former premier Tony Blair's ex spin chief Alastair Campbell added that it was "obviously an option", telling the BBC: "Even I'm not going to tell you that Labour is going to form a majority government in the morning".

© 2010 AFP

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