London: Britain’s two main opposition parties tried on Sunday to break the deadlock of last week’s inconclusive election before financial markets lose patience, with the mood at the negotiations described as “good”.
David Cameron’s Conservatives won the most seats in Thursday’s parliamentary election but fell short of a majority and are seeking the support of Nick Clegg’s third-placed Liberal Democrats, or Lib Dems, to form a government.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose Labour Party lost 91 parliamentary seats in the poll to come in a distant second, remains in office in a caretaker role. He stands ready to try for an alliance with the Liberal Democrats if they are unable to agree with the Conservatives first.
It is the first election since 1974 where no one party has won overall control, leading to horse trading that is unfamiliar in British politics.
Teams from the Conservatives and Lib Dems resumed talks at 11 am (1000 GMT) in an attempt to secure a deal that would end 13 years of Labour rule.
Discussions have already taken place between the two leaders and their negotiating teams.
“The mood is good, there is a willingness to try and sort things out in the national interest,” Conservative education spokesman Michael Gove, one of Cameron’s closest allies, told BBC television.
Both sides say they will not be rushed into a deal, but are acutely aware of the financial markets’ need for decisive action on a record budget deficit, running at more than 11% of national output.
Gove said it was important the two sides showed progress by Monday when the markets open, but that any agreement would allow them to feel comfortable and that it would last.
When asked if he would be prepared to give up his chance of a ministerial post to make room for a Lib Dem and help clinch a deal, he replied “yes” without hesitation.
Gove suggested several scenarios were possible, including a minority Conservative government supported in parliament by the Lib Dems on certain key issues, a more formal coalition with ministers from both parties, or something in between.
The greatest stumbling block may well be electoral reform, a long-cherished ambition of the Lib Dems who would win far more seats if Britain switched from its winner-takes-all system to proportional representation.
The Conservatives are firmly opposed to such a change.
A number of opinion polls in Sunday’s papers indicated most Britons favoured a more proportional system of voting. A YouGov survey for the Sunday Times put support for that at 62%.
Gove said there were different visions of change on electoral reform, but added: “We are not attempting to sandbag or to manoeuvre them (the Lib Dems) into a situation with which they are unhappy.
“We want to make sure that we can work together in the next few years.”
Nevertheless, the Conservatives would fight for the principles on which they fought the election, he added.
The parties must overcome other key differences on economic policy, defence, immigration and Britain’s stance towards Europe, but they could find common ground on issues such as lower taxes for the poor, education and the environment.
Clegg told reporters he was “keen that the Liberal Democrats play a constructive role at a time of great economic uncertainty to provide the good government that this country deserves”.
It is unlikely a deal could be reached by Monday, a Conservative spokesman said earlier in the weekend, noting that the party’s new members of parliament, who will be briefed on the negotiations, would not meet until Monday evening.
Clegg and Cameron held a 70-minute meeting late on Saturday, which both sides said was “amicable and constructive”.