It’s crunch time in the battle to decide who rules Britain, after last week’s general election led to a hung parliament.
The Conservatives – in opposition for 13 years with a Labour government – won the most seats, but not enough to form an overall majority.
That left third-placed Liberal Democrats in the position of trying to do a deal with either main party to form a government.
Talks have been ongoing all weekend and throughout yesterday and today, and an outcome is expected within 24 hours.
One stumbling block to a Lib Dem deal with Labour was Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s continued leadership of the party. A condition of a deal was that he would quit, and yesterday afternoon announced that he would be quitting later this year, and the mechanism for electing a new leader would be put in place.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said talks had reached a “critical and final phase” and his party would “do our bit to create a stable, good government,” according to the BBC.
A big plank in the Lib Dems’ manifesto has always been electoral reform, something the Conservatives are less keen on. But both parties have tried to woo the Lib Dems with promises.
“Labour say if the Lib Dems back them they will put the Alternative Vote system into law and then hold a referendum asking voters if they want a proportional representation voting system – a key issue for the Lib Dems,” says the BBC news website.
The Conservatives improved their offer to the Lib Dems on Monday to the promise of a referendum on changing the voting procedure to the Alternative Vote system. However, Labour had already offered this much electoral reform without a referendum, and have promised a referendum to bring about more electoral change.
Archaic first-past-the-post system
Conservative leader David Cameron has said his MPs have put aside party interest in favour of the national interest, after they approved a referendum on the voting system – but it was on the understanding that they could then campaign against change both in Parliament and during the referencum itself.
According to the Guardian, the Conservatives “said that the parliamentary legislation introducing the referendum would be subject to a three-line whip, ensuring that all members of the coalition parties would be obliged to support the measure. Backbenchers and ministers in the coalition would be free to vote as they saw fit in the referendum.”
But will it be enough? Many Lib Dem supporters want to see radical changes to Britain’s archaic first-past-the-post system of voting – whereby a party with the most votes can still have the fewest seats in Parliament – and will see a deal with Labour, not the Tories, as the best way of bringing about such change. And allowing Conservatives to campaign and vote against voting changes once the referendum has been approved could be seen as giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
Labour cabinet minister Ed Balls is believed one of the people widely expected to run for the Labour leadership. He told reporters as he left his home this morning: “It’s an important day. But we will take the time we need to take to make sure we get this right.”
Also in the frame for leadership are cabinet colleagues and brothers David and Ed Miliband. Commentators say either brother would be more acceptable to Nick Clegg than Gordon Brown is.
Balls said Labour negotiators had met the Lib Dem team last night, and decided they would resume talks on Tuesday. He said there were “areas of agreement” but also “some difficult issues”.