Conservative challenger David Cameron made what he called a “big, open, comprehensive offer” to Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats for an alliance to oust Prime Minister Gordon Brown after the U.K. election failed to deliver a majority to any party.
“There is a case for going further than an arrangement that simply keeps a minority Conservative government in office,” Cameron said in London today before holding a first round of talks with Clegg. “I want us to work together in tackling our country’s problems.”
While Brown said he was willing to discuss a coalition with any party, Clegg said Cameron should have the first crack at forming a government because he won the most seats and had the most popular support. Cameron proposed a committee to study the central Liberal Democrat demand of overhauling the electoral system. Brown offered an immediate referendum.
In the first election since 1974 that yielded a so-called hung Parliament, Cameron fell short of his goal of ending 13 years of Labour rule with a Conservative majority. Clegg, second in the polls for much of the campaign, fell to third and lost seats. Brown led his party to its worst result since 1983.
“Imagine a game of poker in which everyone has been dealt a rather poor hand,” said Eric Shaw, lecturer in politics at Stirling University in Scotland. “There is a possibility that the player with the best hand wins, but there is a second possibility that the player who wins is the one who holds their nerve.”
The pound and gilts fell on concern the political jockeying and subsequent recriminations would undermine efforts from reducing a record budget deficit. Sterling weakened 0.4 percent to $1.4767 at 5:26 p.m. in London. Government bonds declined, pushing the 10-year gilt up by 3 basis points to 3.84 percent.
Cameron’s Conservatives won 306 seats to 258 for Labour and 57 for Clegg. One district, previously held by the Conservatives, will vote on May 27 after the death of a candidate during the campaign.
“Nick Clegg and David Cameron had a short telephone discussion this afternoon during which they agreed that they should explore further proposals for a program of economic and political reform,” the Liberal Democrats said in an e-mailed statement, without elaborating.
For Brown, 59, to have a majority, he would need an unprecedented four-party alliance with the Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalists.
Brown remains as prime minister until he advises Queen Elizabeth II, as head of state, that he is resigning. As Britain has no written constitution, the 84-year-old monarch is guided by conventions built up over hundreds of years. The main requirement for the queen is to find a political leader who can command the confidence of the House of Commons.
Speaking today in front of the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street, Brown proposed a referendum on introducing proportional representation in voting, something that would help the Liberal Democrats gain more seats in Parliament. He also pointed out that they oppose cutting spending this year, in contrast to Cameron.
For his part, Cameron offered to establish a committee to discuss the voting system and insisted he would want to cut spending immediately.
The 43-year-old Conservative, who led his party to its biggest gain in seats since 1931, also listed all the areas where he wasn’t prepared to compromise.
These include his party’s opposition to looser immigration controls and scrapping the submarine-based Trident nuclear deterrent. Both are favored by the Liberal Democrats.
Clegg, 43, can’t agree to a deal on his own. Party rules require the assent of Liberal Democrat lawmakers and members.
“It will be difficult for the Conservatives and the Lib Dems to come to any formal agreement,” said Driver. “What Clegg would get out of any Conservative deal would be very small indeed.”
Only one election since the queen took the throne in 1952 has failed to produce a majority. That was in February 1974, when Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath called a snap election after a strike by coal miners seeking higher pay led to power shortages, and the government put the country on a three- day working week.
Wilson Ousts Heath
Even though the Conservatives won the largest share of the vote, Harold Wilson’s Labour Party took most seats. Heath attempted to stay in power and held unsuccessful talks on forming a coalition with the Liberal Party. He resigned four days after the vote, allowing Wilson to form a minority government that lasted until new elections in October.
As the polls tightened this year, Gus O’Donnell, who as cabinet secretary is head of the Civil Service, accelerated plans to codify the conventions that surround elections and avert the uncertainty that would follow a similar result this time.
“The key thing is Brown remains in office as prime minister until he chooses to resign,” said Robert Hazell, the director of the Constitution Unit at University College London. “He is under a duty to remain in office until it is clear someone will command the support of the new House of Commons.”