Brown offers to go if government is formed with Liberals

May 11th, 2010 - 2:12 am ICT by IANS  

Gordon Brown London, May 11 (DPA) British Prime Minister Gordon Brown Monday offered to step down as Labour Party leader if current efforts to build a new government with the Liberal Democrats were to succeed.
In a dramatic twist to the ongoing saga of coalition-building following last Thursday’s inconclusive general election, Brown confirmed that Liberal leader Nick Clegg had offered Labour “formal discussions” about a possible Labour-Liberal government.

Clegg, the new “kingmaker” of British politics, had offered talks to the Conservatives first, who emerged as the biggest party from the election.

But after four days of top-level talks with David Cameron’s Conservatives, the search for a form of cooperation with the Tories hit a snag when Clegg could not ascertain full backing for a Con-Lib deal from his own parliamentary party.

However, negotiations with the Conservatives will also continue. They upped the ante late Monday by offering Clegg a referendum on electoral reform, a key Liberal demand.

Clegg had earlier made it clear that he would find it difficult to deal with Brown, whom he called a “desperate man” during the election campaign.

It is understood that Brown would now lead the talks with the Liberals and bow out if and when a government is formed.

“If it becomes clear that the national interest, which is stable and principled government, can best be served by forming a coalition between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, then I believe I should discharge that duty, support that government which would, in my view, command a majority in the House of Commons,” said Brown.

“But I have no desire to stay in my position longer than is needed to ensure the path to economic growth is assured and the process of political reform we have agreed moves forward quickly,” Brown said.

He would ask the Labour Party to set in train the processes for a leadership election and he would not be standing. That process should be completed well before the Labour Party conference in September.

It became clear during the Conservative-Liberal talks that, while the two party leaders struck a personal rapport, they would have serious difficulties selling a deal to their members of parliament because of the deep ideological differences between them.

The BBC reported Monday that the Liberal Democrat negotiating team had met senior Labour figures “in secret” over the weekend while the talks with the Conservatives were going on.

At the heart of such contacts would have been the possibility of an alternative deal between Labour and the Lib Dems, described by Brown on Monday as a “progressive coalition government”.

Senior Labour cabinet members were reported to have suggested to the Liberals that Brown could remain prime minister for a transitional period, but announce his intention to stand down by a specific future date.

“They (Labour) don’t want to hand Brown’s head on a platter, but are keen to work out a time scale for him to go,” a BBC commentator said.

Even though Brown’s Labour Party came second in the election, with a vote share of just over 29 percent, the party had been hoping all along that the Liberals’ talks with the Conservatives would collapse, or run into difficulties.

Senior Liberal party figures have publicly urged Clegg not to neglect the Lib-Lab option.

However, Labour and the Liberals would not have enough parliamentary seats to form a coalition on their own and would require the backing of a number of smaller parties.

Critics have said such a scenario would make for an unstable government and be a “coalition of losers”.

In a smart political move, Labour has offered Clegg much more wide-ranging concessions than the Conservatives on a reform of the majority voting system to some form of proportional representation - a key Liberal demand. They also offered a referendum and immediate legislation on the voting system.

The Conservatives won most seats and votes at the election, but were 20 seats short of the outright majority of 326 seats required to govern alone. The Liberals lost five seats, down to 57. Labour won 258 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons.

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