The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats began negotiations on Friday in a step that could give Britain its first coalition government after Thursday’s general election returned a Conservative-dominated but hung parliament.
The Conservatives led the pack with 306 seats with incumbent Labour trailed on 258 and the Liberal Democrats were a distant third with 57 — all short of the 326 seats needed for majority in the 650-member House of Commons.
Regional parties, independents and — making its parliament debut — the Green Party accounted for 28 seats.
As expected, the Liberal Democrats emerged as potential kingmakers and its leader Nick Clegg gave the Conservatives first choice of talks on government formation. “I think it is now for the Conservative Party to prove that it is capable of seeking to govern in national interest,” he said.
Clegg’s comment prompted prime minister Gordon Brown to offer the two parties “as much time as they feel necessary” while putting forward his Labour party as a candidate for a pact with the Liberals, if the talks broke down.
But Conservative leader David Cameron said he would 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”.
The negotiations aren’t expected to be easy — the Liberals’ key demand is electoral reforms, specifically scrapping the first-past-the-post system for proportional representation (PR).
The Conservatives have always opposed PR. Labour advocates a system by which only those who get 50 per cent of votes in a general election get to be MPs.