Hopes rise in Britain for deal to break post-poll deadlock

10th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's main opposition parties voiced hope Monday they could soon strike a deal on forming a new government to break a four-day deadlock after last week's general election produced no clear winner.

The centre-right Conservatives led by David Cameron and Nick Clegg's centrist Liberal Democrats were locked in talks on a possible surprise alliance which would allow a new government led by Cameron to take power.

But they were facing growing pressure from Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour, which is still running the country despite dropping to second in the polls, either to announce a deal or admit they have failed.

William Hague, one of the Conservatives' four negotiators, told reporters as he walked into the negotiations that the talks were "going well" and he was "optimistic of making further progress soon".

Clegg added that politicians were "working flat out, around the clock" in a bid to secure a quick and lasting deal.

"Bear with us a little bit longer and I hope we will be able to provide you with a full announcement as soon as is possible," he said.

Their comments came as Finance Minister Alistair Darling urged the Conservatives and Lib Dems to strike an accord within hours to reassure financial markets and the country as a whole.

"I don't think it will do any good to let this process drag on," he told BBC radio. "I hope by the end of today they can decide whether they can do a deal or not."

Fears that London's FTSE 100 would be hit hard by the political uncertainty Monday proved unfounded as it surged over five percent, largely on EU nations' agreement of a huge rescue deal for eurozone countries.

Whether or not the Conservatives and Lib Dems agree a deal, Brown -- who is still ruling as prime minister due to a constitutional quirk -- is expected to have to resign within days.

Even if there is no Tory/Lib Dem deal which would force him out of office, there are suggestions he could stand aside to make any subsequent talks on a deal between Labour and the Lib Dems easier.

When asked whether Brown should indicate that he intended to quit in order to boost Labour's potential negotiating position with the Lib Dems, Darling was non-committal.

"I'm not going to decide in advance what may or may not be the case in any discussions we have with them," he said.

Thursday's general election delivered a hung parliament -- where no one party has overall control -- for the first time since 1974.

The Conservatives won the most seats and pushed the ruling Labour party into second.

But under Britain's first-past-the-post voting system, it was not enough to for them to govern alone and they are trying to win the extra support needed to rule by working with the Lib Dems, who came third.

Besides the main talks on power-sharing under way, a series of other meetings involving the parties were scheduled throughout the day.

Cameron met Clegg Sunday in their second set of face-to-face talks in 24 hours, a further sign the two sides could be inching towards a deal, and the pair spoke again by telephone Monday.

Brown also met Clegg, in a meeting described by sources as "amicable".

One of the key stumbling blocks the Tories and Lib Dems face is reaching agreement on reforming the voting system. This is one of the Lib Dems' key policies but is opposed by the Conservatives.

Conservative former prime minister John Major warned on BBC radio that "to suddenly draw up plans on the back of an envelope" on electoral reform during the talks would likely lead to the wrong decision.

"There is a crisis and we need to work in the national interest in order to try and resolve that," Major said.

Clegg has hinted he may compromise on electoral reform but the goal is cherished by many Lib Dem activists.

Any alliance involving the Lib Dems which threatens their "independence of political action" has to be approved by the party's 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 could try to rule as leader of a minority Conservative government, relying on ad hoc support from smaller parties.

© 2010 AFP

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