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.

After more than five hours of discussions, senior Conservative negotiator William Hague said the two parties' teams 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, adding that they intended to meet again over the next 24 hours.

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.

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

Cameron invited the third-placed Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg 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.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is still leading the country, despite the fact that his Labour Party crashed to electoral defeat and he is facing calls to step down.

It emerged that Clegg met Brown on Sunday for what Labour and Lib Dem sources described as an "amicable" discussion. Labour could yet make a deal with the Lib Dems and fringe groupings if the talks with the Tories collapse.

Speaking outside his 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.

Cameron told supporters in an email Saturday that "these negotiations will involve compromise" and the two sides "won't rush into any agreement".

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.

"I pledged to do everything in my power to fight for the people of this country -- to secure the recovery, to protect their livelihoods and to continue to fight for a future fair for all."

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.

Former Lib Dem party leader Paddy Ashdown, who met Clegg for talks Sunday, told the BBC there was a "mountain to climb" if they were to forge an agreement.

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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