Electoral demand stalls deal

Some Liberal Democrats prefer ideological soulmate Labour in UK

Electoral demand stalls deal

As an intensive round of talks among the parties’ power brokers began on Saturday, the Conservatives remained elusive on the Liberal Democrats’ main demand — a change in the voting system to help smaller parties gain representation in future parliamentary elections.

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, appeared set to squabble over whether a union with the Conservatives was viable when they could instead join up with the Labour Party, which is more of an ideological soulmate on many issues for the left-leaning Liberal Democrats than the Conservatives.

 Some Liberal Democrat officials interpreted party rules as meaning that a governing pact with another party would require the support of three-quarters of the Liberal Democrat members of Parliament — an improbable target for a party that has prided itself on its freewheeling and often chaotic attachment to internal policy debate.

As the political uncertainties mounted, political commentators said that even if a coalition was formed, it was likely to be so fragile that a new election might be needed later this year in a bid to achieve a clear majority for one of the two main parties — or at least a clearer indication of what kind of government voters want.

Although David Cameron, the Conservative leader, has declared himself open to some change in the voting system, many in his party believe the system of proportional representation championed by the Liberal Democrats would mark the end of single-party government and usher in a new European-style era of coalitions and political volatility.

Vague commitment

When he made his bid for a deal with the Liberal Democrats on Friday, Cameron made a studiously vague commitment to electoral reform, but said the matter should go to an all-party committee in the House of Commons, a step that would sideline any early change, and certainly delay it beyond a second election if one were held this fall.

But if the Liberal Democrats, led by Nick Clegg, seemed likely to balk at any pact with the Conservatives without movement on the voting system, they faced a stumbling block of potentially even greater magnitude in the other option open to them, a deal establishing a coalition government with Labour and its, Gordon Brown.

Despite some misgivings among his own party’s rank and file, Clegg has won widespread plaudits for keeping to a campaign pledge to negotiate first with the Conservatives, on the basis that they had earned the first right to try and form a government by winning more seats and more votes than any other party. No new talks with the Conservatives seemed likely before Sunday, making a deal unlikely before market-opening on Monday.

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