Britain’s opposition Conservatives said on Friday they would try to form a government with the smaller Liberal Democrats after winning the most seats in the closest parliamentary election in a generation.
The centre-right Conservatives failed to gain an overall majority in the 650-seat House of Commons, creating the first “hung Parliament” since 1974, but they were comfortably ahead of the ruling centre-left Labour party, in power for 13 years.
Conservative leader David Cameron said Britain urgently needed a strong government to reassure jittery markets that it was serious about tackling the deficit, which exceeds 11% of national output.
“No government will be in the national interest unless it deals with the biggest threat to our national interest, and that is the deficit. We remain completely convinced that starting to deal with the deficit this year is essential,” Cameron said.
He said one possibility was a minority Conservative government seeking support from other parties issue by issue, but he would also make a coalition offer to the centrist Lib Dems, who came third after Labour in the election.
“I want to make a big, open and comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats. I want us to work together in tackling our country’s big and urgent problems,” he said. “I think we have a strong basis for a strong government.”
Brown stays put for now
Possible areas of agreement included reforming the tax and electoral systems and reversing a planned increase in payroll tax, Cameron said, signalling that the Conservatives would be less open to compromise on European and defence issues.
Cameron’s statement went some way to calming investor fears of political deadlock and British government bonds briefly erased their earlier losses after he spoke — the latest lurch on a volatile day.
Sterling also recovered partly from an earlier fall.
The Lib Dems, whose leader Nick Clegg had stated earlier that the Conservatives should have the first shot at forming a government, said after Cameron’s statement that it was time for a “breather” and Clegg would not speak publicly again on Friday.
Appearing earlier outside his Downing Street residence, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats should take time to try to reach an agreement.
Brown said he would speak to the Lib Dems if those talks proved unsuccessful, and stressed his support for electoral reform, a key Lib Dem demand. A coalition with the Lib Dems is Labour’s last hope of holding on to power.
Cameron, a 43-year-old former public relations executive, has said his party would make deeper and faster spending cuts than Labour, who say this would harm a fragile recovery.
With results in 637 out of the 650 parliamentary constituencies declared, the Conservatives had won 301 seats, followed by Labour on 255 and the centrist Lib Dems on 54.
The BBC calculated the Conservatives had taken 36% of the overall vote, Labour 29% and the Lib Dems 23%. – Reuters