8 May 2010

Lib Dems meet over deal with Tories to form British govt

10:48 pm on 8 May 2010

Britain's Liberal Democrat leader has held talks with his party's MPs as he considers a power-sharing deal with the Conservatives to solve Britain's political impasse.

The party is responding to Conservative leader David Cameron's offer of talks after the general election resulted in the first hung parliament for 36 years.

The Conservatives would like to finalise a power-sharing deal before the financial markets open on Monday, but Liberal Democrat MPs and party members must approve any deal.

The key points of divergence include how speedily to deal with Britain's budget deficit, and electoral reform.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Labour are waiting in the wings if the Lib Dems and the Conservatives cannot force through a deal.

The Tories - who won most seats and 36% of the vote - are expected to reach a deal with the Liberal Democrats, who are seen as kingmakers with 23% of all votes.

Mr Brown remains at 10 Downing Street and Labour, which won 29% of the vote, says if the other two parties fail, it will also try to form a government. He says the Liberal Democrats have a lot of common ground with Labour.

Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg is giving nothing away as he seeks backing from senior party members.

But the BBC quotes MP Simon Hughes as warning there won't be a deal on the table this weekend.

He says the Tories and the Liberal Democrats are not natural allies, but the electorate has said it does not want one party in charge.

Britain's record deficit key hurdle

The biggest hurdle is agreement on the pace of lowering Britain's record budget deficit.

Electoral reform, along with immigration, Britain's role in the European Union and defence, are also likely to get in the way of a political deal.

AAP reports Tory leader David Cameron would agree to reform the voting system as part of a deal - the holy grail for the Lib Dems, who would have their first role in government for decades.

Labour also offers electoral reform to appeal to the Lib Dems.

But Mr Cameron says he's not prepared to compromise on the need for spending cuts to tackle Britain's record deficit - which the Lib Dems argue risks tipping the country back into a double-dip recession.

Mr Cameron approached the Lib Dems after the Tories won the most seats but finished 20 short of a majority. He says the ruling Labour party has lost the mandate to govern.

However, Britain's constitution gives Mr Brown the right to try to form a government first.

Mr Clegg has warned both parties against making claims that don't stand the test of time.

Tories win most seats

With 649 seats reported, the centre-right Conservatives have 306 seats against Labour's 258 - short of the 320 needed for an outright majority.

The Tories have picked up 97 seats, but the swing is not enough to give them an overall majority. Labour has lost 91 seats.

The Liberal Democrats have 57 seats - down five. Mr Clegg said it had been a disappointing night: "We simply haven't achieved what we had hoped."

The BBC reports Mr Clegg gave nothing away about which party he would support.

"I don't think anyone should rush into making claims or taking decisions which don't stand the test of time," he said.

"I think it would be best if everybody were just to take a little time so that people get the good government that they deserve in these very difficult and uncertain times."

NZ votes may not have been counted

Votes cast by Britons based in New Zealand may not have been counted, due to mail being delayed during the travel crisis caused by the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland.

The High Commission in Wellington says up to 49,000 people in New Zealand were eligible to vote in the British election.

Voters were advised to send their postal votes early because the ash cloud might prevent them arriving by the 27 March deadline.

The High Commission in Wellington also recommended Britons to make a proxy vote, where by a family member or friend in Britain casts the ballot on the voters behalf.

It says unlike in New Zealand, postal votes for the British election are not counted after polling day.