Hung parliament ahead, British politicians hunt for numbers


London : As Britons wondered about who would be the next resident of 10 Downing Street, Conservatives, who emerged as the largest party in the British election, edged closer towards a deal with the Liberal Democrats to form the next government.

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Nick Clegg, the charismatic leader of the Liberal Democrats, has held discussions with Conservatives leader David Cameron as well as Liberal leader and Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will hold another round of talks Monday after key negotiators from both sides spent nearly six hours at the Cabinet Office Sunday in an effort to reach an agreement, The Times reported Monday.

The deal, which was short of complete coalition but with agreement on a broad range of legislation, was within reach, Tory sources indicated.

However, Liberal Democrats called it “optimistic”.

“It’s more important to get this right than to be hasty. But we need to reach a deal before the public turns against the process,” a source was quoted as saying.

Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t think it would do any good to let this process drag on. I understand that the Liberals and the Conservatives are engaged in talks today, I hope by the end of today they will decide whether they can do a deal or not.”

“I’m not saying that tomorrow’s the end of the world but I just make the general observation that there does come a point in any negotiations – either you can do a deal or you can’t.”

The political parties needed to reach the magic mark of 326 to have a clear majority in the 650 seat parliament. The Friday election result showed that the Conservatives bagged 306 seats while Labour netted 258 seats. Liberal Democrats got 57 seats. Election was postponed in one constituency following the death of a candidate during campaigning.

Clegg had held discussions with Brown for 70 minutes in the Foreign Office Sunday afternoon.

Brown reportedly offered the Liberal Democrats a full referendum on proportional representation. After meeting Brown, Clegg interacted with Cameron on “neutral territory” in Portcullis House, the MPs’ office block.

A note of caution on the likely deal was sounded by former Conservative prime minister John Major who warned both the Tories and Liberal Democrats against dissolving into “partisan self interest”.

Everyone should understand “there is going to have to be some compromise on both sides – cherished ideas may not be possible”, he said and warned against drawing up plans for electoral reform “on the back of an envelope”.

“The Labour Party, I gather, are offering all sorts of things – the earth as I understand it – in order to get a quick deal,” BBC quoted him as saying.