Signs of breakthrough in British election deadlock
Prime Minister Gordon Brown abandoned efforts Tuesday to strike a power-sharing deal between his Labour party and the Liberal Democrats and was preparing to resign, reports said.
The reported collapse of Labour-Lib Dem talks fuelled expectations of an imminent deal between the Conservatives of David Cameron, who is expected to succeed Brown as premier, and the third party Lib Dems.
In fast-moving developments, Brown was preparing to go to Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation to Queen Elizabeth II, five days after last Thursday's deadlocked general election, the BBC reported.
Sky News said Brown would resign Tuesday evening.
Neither Brown's Downing Street office nor the Labour Party would comment on the reports, which came a day after the British premier announced he would stand down as Labour leader.
In Thursday's general election, the Conservatives won 306 seats in the 650-member House of Commons -- 20 short of a clear majority of 326 -- followed by Labour on 258 and the Lib Dems on 57.
The Conservatives and Lib Dems held talks on a power-sharing deal first but then Brown offered to quit Monday in a bid to improve the prospects of a Labour-Lib Dem deal.
Brown stepping down had been seen as a condition for talks with the Lib Dems, although he could have stayed on for months as a caretaker leader had Labour reached a deal with Nick Clegg's party.
His move prompted the Tories to offer a major compromise on electoral reform to the centrist third party, which emerged as kingmakers amid the post-poll stalemate.
The BBC cited a senior Lib Dem official as saying the power-sharing offer from David Cameron's Conservatives was now "the only deal in town." The Lib Dems declined to comment.
But Lib Dem peer Roger Roberts, a former head of the party in Wales, told the BBC there could be a decision taken before 9:00 pm (2000 GMT) Tuesday.
"I believe there won't be an offer from the Labour party," he said. "The feeling is we have to have a government -- if this (a possible deal with the Tories) is the only way we can get it, we'll go along with it."
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Andy Burnham indicated that he agreed with senior former Cabinet minister David Blunkett, who has said that Labour should admit defeat and not try to form a coalition with the Lib Dems.
"I think we have got to respect the result of the general election and you cannot get away from the fact that Labour didn't win," he told the BBC.
"I think David has spoken with real authority on this matter. I would say that clearly the lead option would remain the largest party speaking to the Liberal Democrats."
Earlier Tuesday, Cameron had piled pressure on Clegg's party to decide which way to jump after he offered Monday a referendum on their touchstone issue of electoral reform.
"It's now I believe decision time, decision time for the Liberal Democrats," said Cameron, adding: "I hope they make the right decision that will give this country the strong, stable government it badly needs and badly needs quickly."
Clegg had said negotiations were entering a "critical and final phase", adding he was as "impatient as anyone else" for a decision. "I'm certainly hopeful of getting a resolution as quickly as possible," he said.
Labour and the Lib Dems are ideologically closer, on the left of the political spectrum, than the centre-right Conservatives and the Lib Dems, although the electoral arithmetic of a Tory/Lib Dem deal is stronger.
Sterling rallied sharply on the reports that Labour-Lib Dem talks had failed, with the pound bouncing as high as 1.5005 dollars, but the FTSE fell by almost one percent on eurozone debt concerns.
The FTSE also sank amid investor concerns that a Labour/Lib Dem government could lack the clout to reduce Britain's massive debt after its worst recession on record.
© 2010 AFP