British opposition leader urges Lib Dems to defect

8th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

The leader of Britain's opposition Labour party on Sunday urged disaffected Liberal Democrat ministers to defect from the government after the junior coalition partners suffered an election meltdown.

Amid mounting tensions in the year-old government, Ed Miliband said Labour's door was open to Lib Dem Cabinet ministers who wanted a way out of the coalition with the larger Conservative party.

"If they are not in favour of these Tory policies they should stand up for what they believe or leave the cabinet," Miliband told Britain's Observer newspaper.

"They can come and work with us. My door is always open."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's Lib Dems suffered a double blow when Britons overwhelmingly rejected a change to the voting system in a referendum this week, while also hammering the party in local elections.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron was accused of betrayal after the campaign against changing to the Alternative Vote (AV) system -- which is favoured by the centrist Lib Dems -- savaged Clegg for "broken promises".

The attacks came even though Clegg broke those election pledges to support Conservative-led austerity measures to tackle Britain's record deficit.

Despite Clegg and Cameron insisting the coalition would ride out the fresh tensions, the relationship between the parties, who were never natural bedfellows, appeared to be deteriorating in the wake of the polls.

Business minister Vince Cable, a senior Liberal Democrat, described the centre-right Conservatives as "ruthless, calculating and thoroughly tribal" and said their alliance would now be more "businesslike".

In his overture on Sunday, Miliband said it was time for Lib Dem ministers to decide whether they wanted to be associated with a Conservative-led coalition or with more progressive policies.

"Do they want Tory policies or progressive ones?" he asked.

"Do they want to be on the Conservative side, backing the Conservative-led government, or on the progressive side? It really is time for them to make up their minds."

The rejection of AV -- with almost 68 percent of voters against the proposal and only slightly over 32 percent in favour -- has been widely seen as ending all hope for a generation of changing the way Britain elects its lawmakers.

The referendum was held as a condition of the Lib Dems, the third party in British politics, joining the coalition.

AV would have allowed voters to rank candidates in order of preference, as opposed to the current first past the post system, in which voters can back only one candidate.

The Lib Dems also had their worst results in local council elections for a quarter of a century.

The Tories, however, emerged largely unscathed in the local elections while Cameron had also backed the campaign against voting reform.

© 2011 AFP

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