LONDON (AP) - Britain's pivotal third party kept its larger
suitors - and the electorate - hanging Tuesday, opening formal
negotiations with Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party to
form a new government after talks with the rival Conservatives.
Five days after an election that produced no outright winner,
the third-placed Liberal Democrats were playing hardball in hopes
of extracting maximum concessions in return for propping up a
Conservative or Labour administration.
Brown's dramatic decision Monday to announce his impending
resignation opened the way for a possible deal with the Liberal
Democrats - who had demanded his removal as a condition for any
Both of the two main political parties have now offered to meet
the Liberal Democrats' key demand - electoral reform - muddying the
differences between the two offers.
Conservative leader David Cameron appeared miffed at the sudden
turn of events, which came after both the Conservatives and the
Liberal Democrats claimed to be making progress Monday in their
"It is now, I believe, decision time," Cameron said early
Cameron's Conservatives - who won the most seats in Parliament
in Thursday's national election but fell short of capturing a
majority - have struggled in their attempts to win over the Liberal
Though the Liberal Democrats appeared genuinely open to a deal
with the Conservatives, they are more ideologically compatible with
Labour. Brown's offer to resign could give Liberal Democrat leader
Nick Clegg a viable chance at passing electoral reform and a role
in the British government after years on the political fringe.
Yet such a move could be seen by many as an affront to the will
of the people, who gave the center-right Conservatives 306 of
Parliament's 650 seats - just short of the 326 needed for a
majority. Labour won 258 seats, Liberal Democrats won 57, and
smaller parties took the rest.
A Labour-Liberal Democrat alliance would also be weak because it
would need the support of other minor parties in order to rule.
Clegg said Tuesday he was "as impatient as anyone else" to
resolve the political impasse and said he hoped to make an
announcement "as quickly as we possibly can."
The talks between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives
had foundered on the issue of voting reform.
The Liberal Democrats have demanded moving the voting system
toward proportional representation, which would greatly increase
their future seats in Parliament. In the latest election, Liberal
Democrats won almost a quarter of the overall vote but that earned
them only 9 percent of the seats in Parliament.
Most Conservatives are adamantly against voting reform, but the
party made a limited counteroffer to the Liberal Democrats on
Monday - offering a referendum on a less dramatic type of electoral
Still, the talks with the Liberal Democrats left even some
Labour supporters uncomfortable.
Former Home Secretary John Reid said such a pact "would be
mutually assured destruction."
He told GMTV on Tuesday that while such a deal might keep Labour
in power a little while longer, it ran the risk of alienating even
more voters from the party.
"I fail to see how trying to bring together six different
parties - and even then not having a majority - will bring the
degree of stability we need," he said. "It may be perceived as
acting in our own self-interest. The public aren't daft."
While uncertainty prevails, one thing is certain: The career of
Brown - the Treasury chief who waited a decade in the wings for his
chance to become prime minister - is ending.
Brown accepted blame Monday for Labour's loss of 91 seats in
last week's election and its failure to win a parliamentary
No other party won outright either, resulting in the first
"hung Parliament" since 1974 and triggering a frantic scramble
for who will create the next government.
"As leader of my party, I must accept that that is a judgment
on me," Brown said, offering to step down before the Labour party
conference in September.
Monday's drama deepened the postelection limbo that many feared
could further undermine confidence in Europe's financial markets.
The British pound traded at $1.485 Tuesday morning, up from its
overnight low of $1.478 but down from around $1.50 before Brown's