British parties hail 'positive' power-sharing talks

9th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's Conservatives and Liberal Democrats held "very positive" power-sharing talks Sunday seeking to break the country's post-election stalemate, they said.

As the parties appeared to edge closer to a deal, it also emerged that Conservative leader David Cameron and his Lib Dem counterpart Nick Clegg held face-to-face talks for the second time in 24 hours.

But Prime Minister Gordon Brown, still in power at the head of his Labour party as the two main opposition groups attempt to thrash out an agreement, also met with Clegg.

The embattled leader, whose party crashed to electoral defeat in second place behind the Tories in the general election, could seek to join up with the Lib Dems if their talks with the Conservatives fail.

The Lib Dem and Tory negotiating teams met for more than five hours in a bid to reach agreement.

Senior Conservative negotiator William Hague said his party and the Lib Dems would meet again within 24 hours after briefing their respective leaders on the talks.

"We've had some very positive and productive discussions over many key policy areas," Hague told journalists.

He said the issues they covered included political reform, the economy and the reduction of Britain's huge deficit, banking reform, civil liberties and environmental issues.

"We are agreed that a central part of any agreement that we make will be economic stability and a reduction of the budget deficit," Hague added.

Liberal Democrat lawmaker Danny Alexander, who emerged with his party's negotiators, said the talks had been "useful" and confirmed the plan to meet again within the next day.

"Any agreement made will have deficit reduction and economic stability at its heart," Alexander said.

Fears have been expressed that the pound could fall when jittery financial markets re-open Monday in the absence of any power-sharing deal.

Clegg and Cameron later met in the Houses of Parliament, their second face-to-face meeting in the past 24 hours, their parties said. They had also met Saturday in government buildings.

Thursday's general election resulted in the first hung parliament for 36 years after the Conservatives won the most seats but came up 20 short of an overall majority.

Cameron invited the third-placed Liberal Democrats to start talks on forming a new government and both sides have stressed their willingness to do a deal.

Clegg has hinted his party may even compromise on their key demand of electoral reform.

Brown returned from his constituency in Scotland to Downing Street on Sunday, and met with Clegg in the foreign office for what Labour and Lib Dem sources described as an "amicable" discussion.

Speaking in London Sunday before his negotiators held the latest round of talks with the Tories, Clegg said he was "keen that the Lib Dems should play a constructive role at a time of great economic uncertainty."

He also indicated his party could be willing to compromise on one of its demands, electoral reform. Listing key priorities, he stressed simply "extensive fundamental political reform."

This contrasts with his repeated calls on the campaign trail to ditch Britain's first-past-the-post system for proportional representation, which would favour the Lib Dems.

Despite the negotiations and a Sunday Times/YouGov poll which suggested 62 percent of people want him out of 10 Downing Street now, Brown signalled he means to fight on.

"My resolve has not, and will not, change," Brown wrote to Labour Party members.

There has been talk that Brown, whose party has been in power for 13 years, could be replaced by a figure like Foreign Secretary David Miliband if the Tories and Lib Dems reach agreement.

The centrist Lib Dems are seen as closer to centre-left Labour in most policy areas and there have been warnings that it may not be easy for them to secure a deal with the centre-right Conservatives.

Any alliance involving the Lib Dems has to be first approved by their lawmakers, the ruling executive and potentially their full membership in a complex system known as the "triple lock".

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

© 2010 AFP

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