British opposition parties resume talks to end deadlock

9th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's two main opposition parties resumed efforts Sunday to break a post-election deadlock which has left the country in political limbo, still battling to overcome major policy differences.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat negotiators called round two of talks after Thursday's poll ended in a hung parliament, though a deal is not expected before the financial markets reopen Monday, raising fears of turmoil.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, kingmaker after neither of the two main parties secured a clear majority, said Sunday he was "keen that the Lib Dems should play a constructive role at a time of great economic uncertainty".

Clegg indicated the Lib Dems could be willing to compromise on one of their strongest principles -- the need for electoral reform -- in order to make the discussions with the Conservatives, who reject any such change, work.

Listing his party's priorities, he stressed simply "extensive fundamental political reform".

For the Conservatives, Michael Gove, a key ally of leader David Cameron, said it was "important that we show progress by tomorrow when the markets open".

It is not thought a final deal will be ready by then but the parties may bid to reassure financial markets by issuing some kind of interim statement.

With Britain facing a record debt, the London FTSE 100 closed well down Friday on news of the hung parliament, while sterling also dived.

Clegg and David Cameron, the Conservative leader who looks poised to become prime minister, held their first face-to-face talks on a possible deal which could oust Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party after 13 years.

The two sides described the private 70-minute discussion Saturday as "constructive and amicable".

Brown later called Clegg for what was again described as an "amicable" conversation.

Britain remains in political limbo with Cameron holding the most seats in parliament but Brown still holding power while talks between Cameron and Clegg continue.

The Conservatives won the most seats in the election but ended up 20 short of an overall majority in the 650-seat House of Commons, leaving Britain with its first hung parliament for 36 years.

The Conservatives now have 306 lawmakers, compared to 258 for Labour. The Liberal Democrats dropped back to 57 seats.

Cameron emailed supporters Saturday to say Britain expected the Conservatives and Liberals to "work out how we can deliver strong and stable government to tackle Britain's big and urgent problems."

"Inevitably, these negotiations will involve compromise. But that's what working together in the national interest means.

"I hope we can sort things out as quickly as possible, for the good of the country. But we won't rush into any agreement," he said.

The parties are not natural bedfellows, with the Lib Dems seen as closer to Labour in most areas.

Lib Dem deputy leader Vince Cable said an agreement was far from a done deal.

"The Tories cannot form a government without our support," he wrote in The Mail on Sunday newspaper.

"Labour cannot continue in office without reaching accommodation with a coalition of small parties as well as ourselves.

"If we can find a way of working together to manage the (economic) crisis, Britain will be seen as a strong and united country.

"But if squabbling and short-term manoeuvring dominate, we could be sucked into a downward spiral of falling confidence and decline."

If a deal cannot be done, Cameron is prepared to try to rule as a minority Conservative government, relying on ad hoc support from smaller parties.

Alternatively, Clegg could also try and team up with Brown and a number of fringe parties.

The prime minister, who has spoken to Clegg twice since the election, has dangled "immediate legislation" on electoral reform before them.

Two Labour lawmakers have broken ranks and urged Brown to resign, while a YouGov survey for The Sunday Times found that 62 percent of people want Brown out of 10 Downing Street now, while 28 percent said he should stay on.

© 2010 AFP

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