Britain could face fresh vote despite deal: experts

7th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain could yet face fresh elections within months, despite the start of talks between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats on a possible power-sharing deal in a hung parliament, experts warned Friday.

David Cameron's centre-right Tories and Nick Clegg's centrist Liberal Democrats could struggle to find common ground since they strongly disagree on issues including Europe, defence and immigration, analysts said.

If the two parties fail to reach agreement, the Liberal Democrats could still make a pact with Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour party, which lost its overall majority in Thursday's general election.

"Either way there's going to be an election again soon, probably before the end of the year," Victoria Honeyman, a politics lecturer at Leeds University, told AFP.

Britain faces days of political limbo after its first hung parliament -- in which no one party has an overall majority -- since 1974. The pound slumped to a 13-month dollar low and London stocks sank in response to the news.

The Conservatives have won 306 seats, centre-left Labour 258 and the Liberal Democrats 57. The magic figure needed to secure a clear majority is 326.

Negotiations between the parties involved have begun, while Queen Elizabeth II is monitoring events and four top civil servants have been assigned to each party for talks.

One possibility is that the Tories could rule as a minority government with support from the Lib Dems on a vote-by-vote basis.

Conservative London mayor Boris Johnson raised the possibility of this, describing it as a "meccano-type solution".

"I don't think there's any serious prospect for a coalition," Tory former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind told the BBC. "It's perfectly possible to reach an agreement if both sides want to find the basis of an agreement".

Cameron has drawn clear red lines for negotiations in a bid to reassure lawmakers of his party concerned about a possible deal -- but risks alienating the pro-European Lib Dems, who want voting reform, an amnesty on illegal immigrants and the scrapping of the Trident nuclear deterrent.

"I don't believe any government should give more powers to the EU, I don't believe any government can be weak or soft on the issue of immigration and the country's defences must be kept strong," Cameron said.

He also restated his backing for Britain's current voting system, although he raised the possibility of an inquiry into this.

A Conservative/Lib Dem deal might be "the best of a bad job" but "isn't what anyone would really want" from either of the two parties, Honeyman said, noting that the Lib Dem manifesto was "a bit left of Labour" in many areas.

If the Conservatives and Lib Dems do not manage to strike a deal, Brown's Labour could step in to try to work with Clegg's party.

Brown said he was content for the two opposition parties to talk first but would be happy to talk to the Lib Dems afterwards, while making an overture to them by floating a referendum on voting reform.

Even if Labour were to team up with the Liberal Democrats, who have 52 seats, they would still be well short of the magic 326 figure, meaning they may also need to bring on board smaller parties such as Scottish and Welsh nationalists.

A deal based on a large number of parties with conflicting interests could prove highly unstable and shake markets.

"The problem is then you end up with a coalition of losers," Honeyman said.

Elections expert David Butler of Nuffield College Oxford told the BBC that there would likely be another election very soon "because I don't see the compromises that are necessary for a coalition."

The last time Britain elected a hung parliament, in February 1974, it resulted in a second election in October of that year, eight months later.

"I think the 1974 analogy is a very strong one and I think if Cameron does carry the next government, a minority government, he has a very good chance of winning a clear majority in a quick election afterwards," Butler added.

© 2010 AFP

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