British parties report 'progress' in govt talks

The front door of 10 Downing Street in London. AFP photo

LONDON (AFP) – Britain's main opposition parties voiced hope Monday they could soon strike a deal on forming a new government to break a four-day post-election deadlock.

Negotiating teams from David Cameron's centre-right Conservatives and Nick Clegg's centrist Liberal Democrats held an hour-and-a-half of talks before coming out to consult with their leaders.

William Hague, one of the four Conservative negotiators, said there had been "further progress" in the talks. "The negotiating teams are working really well together."

Lib Dem negotiator Danny Alexander echoed these comments, saying "further progress has been made" and that he was going to report to Clegg and fellow lawmakers.

Earlier, Clegg told reporters that politicians were "working flat out, around the clock" to secure a deal, promising an announcement "as soon as is possible."

If the two parties do strike a deal, it would likely pave the way for Cameron to become prime minister, taking over from Gordon Brown who is still in office despite his Labour party falling to second in Thursday's polls.

Brown's centre-left Labour has been putting pressure on the two opposition parties to announce an accord or admit failure in the hope that the Lib Dems could still do a deal with his party.

Finance Minister Alistair Darling urged the Conservatives and Lib Dems to strike an accord within hours to reassure financial markets and the country as a whole.

"I don't think it will do any good to let this process drag on," he told BBC radio. "I hope by the end of today they can decide whether they can do a deal or not."

Fears that London's stocks would be hit by the political uncertainty Monday proved unfounded as it surged over five percent, largely on the European Union agreement for a huge rescue deal for eurozone countries.

Whether or not the Conservatives and Lib Dems agree a deal, Brown -- who remains prime minister due to a constitutional quirk -- is expected to have to resign within days.

Even if there is no Tory/Lib Dem deal which would force him out of office, there are suggestions he could stand aside to make any subsequent talks on a deal between Labour and the Lib Dems easier.

Thursday's general election delivered a hung parliament -- where no one party has overall control -- for the first time since 1974.

The Conservatives won the most seats and pushed the ruling Labour party into second.

But under Britain's first-past-the-post voting system, it was not enough to for them to govern alone and they are trying to win the extra support needed to rule by working with the Lib Dems, who came third.

Besides the main power-sharing talks, a series of other meetings involving the parties were scheduled throughout the day.

Cameron met Clegg Sunday for the second time in 24 hours, a further sign the two sides could be inching towards a deal, and the pair spoke again by telephone Monday.

Brown also met Clegg at the weekend, in a meeting described by sources as "amicable" -- and on Monday Sky News television reported that they had met for a second time.

One key potential stumbling block the Tories and Lib Dems face is reaching agreement on reforming the voting system. This is one of the Lib Dems' key policies but is opposed by the Conservatives.

Clegg has hinted he may compromise on electoral reform but the goal is cherished by many Lib Dem activists.

Any alliance involving the Lib Dems which threatens their "independence of political action" has to be approved by party lawmakers, the ruling executive and potentially the full membership in a complex system known as the "triple lock".

If a deal cannot be done, Cameron could try to rule as leader of a minority Conservative government, relying on ad hoc support from smaller parties.

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