Britain’s third party cranked up the pressure by demanding fresh “clarification” Monday from the Conservatives in talks on forming a new government after last week’s deadlocked general election.
The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are into their fourth day of negotiations on a possible deal after Thursday’s poll resulted in defeat for Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour party but produced no clear winner.
Hopes rose for an accord when talks between the two sides broke up after an hour-and-a-half, with both sides hailing “further progress”.
But after Lib Dem lawmakers met in the House of Commons to discuss a possible deal, one of the party’s negotiators, David Laws, said there was more work to be done — and that the centrists would also carry on talking to Labour about a possible deal.
“The parliamentary party agreed that the proposals that have been discussed… reflect very good progress on several points but they have also asked for clarification” on electoral reform, taxes and education, Laws said.
He added that it was “vital that progress should be made” on all three.
The biggest potential stumbling black to a deal is likely to be electoral reform.
The Lib Dems want to scrap the first-past-the-post system, which favours two-party politics and means smaller parties like theirs get fewer seats in the House of Commons. But most Conservatives strongly oppose such changes.
Earlier, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg told reporters that politicians were “working flat out, around the clock” to secure a deal, promising an announcement “as soon as is possible.”
If the two parties do strike a deal, it would likely pave the way for Cameron to become prime minister, taking over from Gordon Brown who is still in office despite his Labour party falling to second in Thursday’s polls.
Centre-left Labour has been putting pressure on the two opposition parties to announce an accord or admit failure in the hope that the Lib Dems could still do an unlikely deal with them.
Laws said Lib Dem lawmakers had agreed that Clegg should “continue to listen to representations from the leader of the Labour party”.
Finance Minister Alistair Darling urged the centre-right Conservatives and the 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 stocks would be hit by the political uncertainty proved unfounded as they surged over five percent, largely on the European Union agreement for a huge rescue deal for eurozone countries.
Whether or not the Conservatives and Lib Dems agree a deal, Brown — who remains 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 a subsequent deal between Labour and the Lib Dems more likely.
The BBC reported that Clegg had met Brown for talks Monday and that Lib Dem negotiators held parallel talks with senior Labour figures at the weekend, suggesting Labour has still not given up hope of clinging to power.
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 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.
If a deal cannot be done, Cameron could try to rule as leader of a minority Conservative government, relying on ad hoc support from smaller parties.