British election leaves all options open

Posted by on May 7th, 2010 and filed under International, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

London, May 7 (DPA) Britain’s general election produced a stalemate Friday which left open the prospect of a new, Conservative-led government or a continuation of Labour rule.

An intense battle for power ensued as both Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron said they would enter talks with the smaller Liberal Democrat Party to secure a stable government.

Cameron’s Conservatives emerged as the biggest force from Thursday’s poll, while failing to gain an absolute majority to govern alone.

The elections resulted in a hung parliament, a situation where neither of the two big parties has an absolute majority, according to vote counts from most of the 649 constituencies.

The Conservatives gained 36 percent of the popular share of the vote, Labour received 29 percent and the Liberal Democrats 22.9 percent.

Brown, who appears determined to stay on in his job despite heavy Labour losses, offered the Liberal Democrats a referendum and swift legislation on electoral reform in what he called a ‘progressive pact’ to prevent a Conservative government.

But Cameron said that Brown had lost his mandate to govern, and also offered ‘comprehensive talks’ on cooperation with the Liberals in the ‘national interest’.

In a crucial intervention Friday, Liberal leader Nick Clegg said he was ready to talk to the Conservatives first, because they had emerged as the biggest party.

Clegg said he had always believed that the ‘party with the most votes and the most seats’ should have the first chance to form a government. ‘I stick to this view,’ he said.

His remarks will not have been welcomed by the Labour, which has been openly wooing Clegg to enter into coalition talks in the hope of clinging on to government.

Government circles insisted that the ‘basis exists’ for a coalition agreement with Clegg, built around the issues of electoral reform and the economy.

‘My duty to the country, coming out of this election, is to play my part in Britain having a strong, stable and principled government, able to lead Britain into sustained economic recovery,’ Brown said.

As the wait for clarity continued, he was locked in talks with his closest aides in Downing Street to assess the possibilities of a government pact with smaller parties, including the Liberal Democrats.

But there were clear signs that the process would be drawn out.

The Liberal Democrats said they would hold a crucial meeting Saturday to consider possible alliances.

Meanwhile, there were no signs that Queen Elizabeth II, who would have to ‘invite’ the future government leader, was in any hurry to do so.

The monarch, who was staying at Windsor Castle outside London, was unlikely to become involved until the situation became clear, constitutional experts said.

It was her view that it was ‘up to the politicians to get together to produce a solution’, said one expert. ‘The monarch is not a referee,’ he said, adding that the monarchy would be damaged if her role was seen to be ‘politicized’.

The result was a shock for Clegg, who had been branded the ‘superstar’ of the 2010 election.

‘We simply haven’t achieved what we had hoped,’ Clegg said. The Lib Dems, who had risen to a vote share of 35 percent in pre-election opinion polls, ended up with 22.9 percent of the vote.

The Liberals have been campaigning for electoral reform, aimed at replacing the present majority first-past-the-post system with proportional representation.

Throughout the campaign, the key question had been whether the Liberal Democrats, desperate to seize the chance of a lifetime, would back Labour or the Conservatives in a new government.

Under the unwritten rules of Britain’s constitution, the sitting prime minister can first ask Queen Elizabeth II for the chance to form a government.

However, convention also states that the party with the most seats has the ‘moral’ right to ask to form a government.

The dramatic all-night election count produced a number of surprises.

Peter Robinson, the Protestant leader of the government in Northern Ireland, lost his seat in the Westminster parliament in his Belfast east constituency.

Meanwhile, Caroline Lucas, the leader of Britain’s Green Party, made history by becoming the first Green member of parliament in Britain.

Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party, failed in his attempt to win his first parliamentary seat in the working class district of Barking, east London.

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