UK PM plans to step down by Sept.

Tories offer referendum on electoral reform in bid to woo Lib-Dems.

May 10, 2010 23:48
2 minute read.
David Cameron

David Cameron 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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LONDON — The Conservative Party has offered to hold a referendum on electoral reform in a last-ditch bid to woo the third-place Liberal Democrats into joining them in forming a new government.

The first-place Conservative Party has been in intensive negotiations to secure the loyalty of the Liberal Democrats, whose support they need to run the country after Britain's general election left the country with no clear winner.

But the progress of those talks was thrown into doubt when Labor Party leader, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, announced that he was also in talks with the Liberal Democrats in an effort to cobble together an alternative coalition. Brown announced Monday evening he would step down as party leader by September, a condition of the Liberal Democrats for entering negotiations.

In a remark clearly aimed at the Liberal-Democrats, Brown said electoral reform was urgently needed.

Analysis: A rather Israeli election crisis
Labour, Tories court Lib-Dems
Clegg commended Brown on his statement, saying it must have been personally very difficult for him to make, and Brown had made it in the national interest. Clegg said he considered the announcement "could be an important element in the smooth transition towards a stable government." He did not commit himself to reaching an agreement with Labor necessarily, however.

Earlier Monday David Cameron and Nick Clegg met face-to-face, as teams of party negotiators tried to hammer out a power-sharing deal. Clegg also met separately with Brown.

Some observers suggested that Clegg's party might be open to talks with Labor if Brown agrees to step down, due to Cameron's expected refusal to back sweeping electoral reform.

The key issue: Electoral reform, which the Liberal Democrats demand but which the Conservatives fear would banish them to the political wilderness for years to come.

It's a critical juncture for Clegg. His position as kingmaker could determine his party's influence not only in the next government but in elections for decades to come, but only if the Liberal Democrats can get their main wish — an overhaul of Britain's electoral system.

Proportional representation is critical to Clegg because it would mean his party would gain a greater share of seats in House of Commons. On Thursday, his party earned 23 percent of the vote yet got only 9 percent of the body's 650 seats.

Top Conservative Party lawmakers arrived for a meeting in Cameron's office Monday afternoon. Asked if Cameron would be prime minister by Tuesday, lawmaker Des Swayne, an aide to the leader, said: "I hope so."

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