What next after Britain's inconclusive election?

9th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

The British general election failed to produce an overall majority for any party, triggering a scramble to form a government.

The Conservatives, who won most seats, have started talks with the third-placed Liberal Democrats, leaving Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party out in the cold for now, although a deal is far from certain.

Here are the possible scenarios:

1: Conservative-Liberal Democrat pact

The two parties began talks after Conservative leader David Cameron made a "big, comprehensive offer" to Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats.

But the parties have strong divergences on policy, especially over the Lib Dems' key demand on electoral reform to introduce proportional representation, a move the Tories oppose.

They could put aside their differences and agree a full coalition deal, giving them a combined majority of 37 seats in the House of Commons and Liberal Democrats would likely be given cabinet seats.

Failing a coalition deal, they could agree an informal alliance. The Lib Dems would support a Conservative government on the most important issues in parliament in return for having their concerns taken into consideration.

2. Labour-Liberal Democrat pact

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he and his Labour Party were ready to step in and talk to the Lib Dems if they and the Tories fail to reach a deal.

The Lib Dems have not ruled out such a possibility. Labour are more natural political partners for the Lib Dems than the Tories and Brown has offered them the carrot of "immediate legislation" on changes to the electoral system.

Their combined 315 seats would fall short of an overall majority, so they would need the support of the main unionist party in Northern Ireland, who won eight seats, and the three seats of the province's SDLP party to just reach the 326 seats required. The Irish parties would demand a high price in return.

The big question is whether such a government could be formed with Brown at its head. He would be under pressure to stand aside, perhaps to be replaced by current foreign secretary David Miliband.

3. Minority Conservative government

Cameron said that if a deal with the Lib Dems proved impossible, he could forge ahead with a minority Conservative government. The Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland could support them.

But as with all minority administrations, it would be inherently weak and such a route could lead to another general election being called within weeks.

© 2010 AFP

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