Monday, May 10, 2010

Britain in limbo as talks resume

Speculation is mounting as to the outcome of talks held between Conservative leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg following last Thursday's election which left Britain with a hung parliament. The Conservative party fell just short of the required number of 326 seat in order to seize power gaining only 306 seats in parliament. Despite what was seen by some as a clear mandate from the electorate, Gordon Brown remains in power as the Prime Minister and was referred to as the squatter of No 10 by some of Britain's tabloids. Meanwhile the Conservatives have been hold talks with the Liberal Democrats in order to broker a deal and form a coalition. Brown has offered the LibDems talks if no deal is reached with the Conservatives.

But according to those attending the talks between the Tories and the LibDems, discussions seemed to be going well. The Conservative party's shadow foreign secretary William Hague, emerged from the Cabinet Office after a day of talks, and said, "The issues that we have covered have included political reform, economic issues and reduction of the deficit, banking reform, civil liberties, environmental issues. So, we've had good discussions about all of those areas. We are agreed that a central part of any agreement that we make will be economic stability and the reduction of the budget deficit, but each negotiating team is now going to report to our party leaders."

William Hague was also joined by shadow chancellor George Osborne, policy chief Oliver Letwin and chief of staff Ed Llewellyn. On the Liberal Democrats team were MPs Chris Huhne, the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Andrew Stunell, David Laws and chief of staff Danny Alexander. In a brief statement Alexander described the talks as wide-ranging and "good", and also emphasised that a reduction of Britain's £163 billion [$242 billion] was important.

As talks were set to continue this week Gordon Brown remains prime minister, and government business continues, with Chancellor Alistair Darling attending a meeting of finance ministers in Brussels. However the uncertainty has prompted many papers to raise their concern if a resolution is not found soon. The Daily Mirror warned that the nation could be plunged into chaos if the Conservatives went it alone and formed a minority Government. And the Independent inferred that the talks had already stalled on the subject of electoral reform. Most papers were more critical of Gordon Brown who they accused of clinging to power. The Sun claimed Gordon Brown was trying to hijack a possible Tory/Lib Dem deal sparking fears of a City meltdown. Monday's Daily Mail focused on Gordon Brown's clandestine meeting with Nick Clegg, describing it as the PM's "last-ditch attempt to cling to power".

The Telegraph, a staunch supporter of the Conservatives, also led with the negotiations and ran with the headline "A Nation in Limbo". The Financial Times and the Daily Express said that a historic deal was close. The Financial Times saying that while David Cameron was edging closer to Number 10, a quick resolution to talks between the parties was key for the economy [Paper review: Sky]

Talks are set to resume this morning, though it is unclear if a deal will be reached by the end of today. Britain's Prime Minister remains to next possible contenders if the discussions fail. Earlier he thanked his party for their hard work leading up to the election and spoke of the importance to bring the uncertainty to an end. "The past few days have seen us enter a political landscape not considered possible a few short weeks ago - with the outcome of the election leading to no single party able to form a majority government," he wrote in an email to party supporters. "My duty as prime minister has been to seek to resolve this situation."

But already several Labour backbenchers have called for Brown to step down. MP George Howarth, a minister in the Blair government, said the only people capable of forming any kind of government were the Conservative Party, and that Labour should become a "constructive" opposition. Others were more scathing of the other parties. Labour party treasurer Jack Dromney said the "big choice" was for Clegg to decide whether to be a progressive party or "get into bed with the heirs of Mrs Thatcher". But Dromney said Labour were open to discussion. "If they wish to talk to us, we're ready to talk to them," Dromney said, a sentiment echoed by Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling.

While the Conservative gained 306 seats, Labour finished with 258 MPs, down 91, the Lib Dems 57, down five, and other parties 28. If Labour and the LibDems joined forces, they would still not be the largest grouping. With the support of the Northern Irish SDLP, one Alliance MP, and nationalists from Scotland and Wales they would reach 330, rising to 338 if the DUP, the independent unionist and the new Green MP joined them [BBC / Sky].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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