U.K. Government in Limbo As Leaders Race to Make a Deal

U.K. Government in Limbo As Leaders Race to Make a Deal
# 10 May 2010 18:50 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. There’s always a degree of controlled chaos in Westminster on the first Monday after a general election. Members of Parliament are shunted into temporary offices as the parties’ business managers secretly haggle for their preferred allocation of rooms, APA reports quoting “Time” magazine. This simple transaction often takes as long as a month to conclude. Small wonder, then, that the slightly more complex negotiations to forge a viable government after Britain’s voters returned a hung Parliament on May 6 have extended well into a third day without reaching a conclusion.
"Bear with us," urged Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, as his team prepared for further discussions with the Conservatives. "All the political parties, and the political leaders, are working flat-out." An apparent surge in Lib Dem popularity ahead of the elections proved to be a chimera, stranding the party in its usual third place with only 57 seats, compared with the Conservatives’ 306 and Labour’s 258. Yet with neither of the bigger parties commanding an overall majority, Clegg now finds himself courted by Conservative leader David Cameron and Labour’s Gordon Brown, who remains Prime Minister unless and until Cameron musters sufficient support in the House of Commons to form a new government.
On May 8 Cameron made what he described as a "big, open, comprehensive offer" to the Lib Dems to tempt them into coalition or some looser form of arrangement. Brown and Clegg have also been meeting clandestinely, to discuss Labour’s alternative proposal to form "a progressive coalition" that would also have to include other, smaller parties. "It is a painful irony that a party which got poked in the eye is now crossing and uncrossing its legs ... and inviting the favors of Dave and Gordon," said London’s Conservative mayor, Boris Johnson.
Quite a few Conservatives see Clegg as every bit as dangerous as Catherine Tramell, the psychopathic serial killer of Basic Instinct, who memorably crossed and uncrossed her legs to befuddling effect. They fear that the electoral reform the Lib Dems are seeking in exchange for supporting a Cameron-led government could ultimately lead to the annihilation of the Conservative Party. The Lib Dems have long campaigned to replace Britain’s first-past-the-post system with proportional representation, or PR. PR would make hung Parliaments the rule, rather than the exception - before last week, Britain last returned a hung Parliament in 1974 - and would likely usher in an era of center-left coalitions.
That’s why Cameron’s offer wasn’t really all that big, open or comprehensive, and also helps to explain the slow pace of negotiations. The Conservative leadership has to persuade backbench MPs and its wider base to support any deal with the Lib Dems. The Lib Dem leadership faces a similar battle to convince its activists to back any arrangement that would see them shoring up a potentially unpopular government without extracting firm promises of a change to the voting system.
One possible outcome is that the Lib Dems will agree to give Cameron the necessary backing to form a government and start tackling Britain’s billowing budget deficit, without entering into formal coalition or accepting Cabinet positions. A decision of some sort, at least in outline, could well be made on Monday, with both Clegg and Cameron planning meetings with their top teams and parliamentary parties. That could see Brown heading to Buckingham Palace as early as tomorrow to tender his resignation to the Queen.
Yet Labour has not given up hope of a breakdown in talks between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems that might permit them to cling to power. The markets might not like that very much. Stock markets surged on Monday after E.U. finance ministers agreed on a stabilization plan for the euro, but fears over a weak government in Britain that is unable to push through austerity measures could undermine confidence. So could undue delay in forming a government.
Ken Clarke, a veteran Conservative MP and former Chancellor of the Exchequer who is expected to play a leading role in any Cameron government, spoke of his concerns in an interview with the BBC. "We need a stable government, we need a strong government," he said. "Otherwise we’ll have a bond-market crisis ... We can’t fool around talking about electoral reform."
British politicians - and the British public - share his concerns. But for the moment, behind closed doors, just such talks continue.
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