UK elections: Hung parliament, Cameron to negotiate with Liberal Democrats

Friday, May 7, 2010

A day after general elections were held in the UK, results indicate there will be a hung parliament — where no party obtains the simple majority needed to pass legislation on its own — raising the prospect of a minority or coalition government being formed, which would require cooperation between parties.

Incumbent PM Gordon Brown, Labour
Image: ΠΑΣΟΚ.
David Cameron, Conservative
Image: World Economic Forum.
Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat
Image: Nick Clegg.

With only one constituency not yet counted, David Cameron's Conservatives have taken 306 seats, incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour party 258 seats, and Nick Clegg with his Liberal Democrats with 57. Cameron has said he will negotiate with the latter party to try and form a coalition to attain more than 325 seats, or half those in the parliament.

After Labour's large losses at the polls yesterday, both in terms of seats and votes, Cameron said Brown has "lost his mandate to govern". Clegg, meanwhile, says he thinks the result allows the Conservatives to try to form a government first, contrary to past tradition, under which the incumbent prime minister and his party in a hung parliament try first to form a coalition.

"I've said that whichever party gets the most votes and the most seats, if not an absolute majority, has the first right to seek to govern either on its own or by reaching out to other parties, and I stick to that view," Clegg said this morning.

"It seems this morning that it is the Conservative Party that has more votes and more seats though not an absolute majority. That is why I think it is now for the Conservative Party to prove that it is capable of seeking to govern in the national interest."

Clegg described his party's performance as "disappointing" during the night, as they had failed to make any significant advances in their target seats. Overall, the general swing varied, with all parties failing to gain many of their targets, and suffering unexpected losses in others.

Brown: 'prepared to discuss' issues with Lib Dems

A colour-coded map of the constituencies contested. Please click the image to expand.
Image: Wereon.

Pre-empting a statement from Cameron, Brown said at lunchtime in a short statement outside Downing Street that if any negotiations between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats failed, he would be prepared to form an alliance with Nick Clegg, offering "far-reaching political reform", in reference to the Liberals' long held position that the UK's first past the post voting system must be reformed into some form of proportional representation system, historically opposed by the Conservatives.

"I understand and completely respect the position of Mr. Clegg in stating that he wishes first to make contact with the leader of the Conservative Party," he commented, but noting that, "should the discussions between Mr. Cameron and Mr. Clegg come to nothing [...] I would be prepared to discuss with Mr. Clegg the areas where there may be some measure of agreement between our two parties." He said there is "substantial common ground" between his party and the Liberals.

"I understand as I know my fellow party leaders do that people do not like the uncertainty or want it to be prolonged. We live, however, in a parliamentary democracy, the outcome has been delivered by the electorate. It is our responsibility now to make it work for the national good," Brown said.

Cameron made his position known in a statement delivered in the early afternoon, in which he offered the prospect of both a Lib Dem supported minority Conservative government, or an alliance "stronger, more stable, more collaborative government than that". Cameron stated: "I want to make a big, open and comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats. I want us to work together in tackling our country's big and urgent problems — the debt crisis, our deep social problems, and our broken political system."

He went on to describe how both parties had "common ground" they could work together on to form a government in the "national interest". On the issue of electoral reform, Cameron ruled out holding a referendum, but suggested forming an all party commission on electoral and voting reform. He also ruled out concessions on other Lib Dem positions like greater integration with the European Union or altering the position on defence and the nuclear deterrent, although offering to adopt other Lib Dem policies, such as on schools.

The AFP news agency says this is the first time the Liberal Democrats have considered working with Conservatives; previously, the former were thought likelier to negotiate with Labour due to them being considered more "progressive".

Brown not to step down after 'lost mandate'

Brown, however, has made it clear he has no intention of stepping down as PM, saying he has "a duty as Prime Minister to take all steps to ensure Britain has a strong, stable and principled government".

What is your opinion? Who should the Liberal Democrats work with?

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson commented on the matter, saying: "The Prime Minister's duty is to stay at his post, to continue doing his job and not resign until it is clear who the Queen should call as an alternative to form a new government, should Mr Brown not be able to do so."

When asked whether it was "inconceivable" that the PM should step down, Mandelson responded: "Frankly, there are quite a number of permutations. And the reason I don't want to start getting into hypotheses about what may or may not happen is because, quite frankly, I think it's premature. I am not ruling out or ruling in anything."

Under British parliamentary convention, in the event of a hung parliament, Brown remains Prime Minister and the Labour Government continues to operate until it is demonstrated it cannot command a majority. The Government effectively gave approval for talks to begin by giving civil servants permission to support all parties in hung parliament negotiations. Brown described how the negotiations could be "prolonged", and while recognising people might want a swift conclusion, "the outcome has been delivered by the electorate. It is our responsibility now to make it work for the national good".