x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

UK PM Brown to resign in bid to woo Lib Dems

Labour Party leader will step down in apparent bid to kick-start talks over coalition government with Liberal Democrats.

LONDON // Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, dramatically announced his resignation last night. Mr Brown's decision to stand down by September as PM and leader of the Labour Party was made in an apparent bid to kick start talks over the formation of a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats.

The disclosures brought fresh turmoil to the attempts to form a new government in the UK. Mr Brown effectively lost power after last Thursday's general election when Labour won only 258 seats in the 650-seat parliament. David Cameron's Conservatives came out on top with 306 seats - 20 seats short of an overall majority - with the Liberal Democrats a distant third with 57 seats. Since Friday, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have been in talks to find some sort of arrangement, including, perhaps, a coalition, that would allow Mr Cameron to succeed Mr Brown as prime minister.

Last night, however, Mr Brown revealed that Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats' leader, had requested formal talks with the Labour Party over the possibilities of forming the next government. Mr Clegg described the prime minister's announcement as an "important element" in negotiations on a possible power-sharing deal between their two parties. The move stunned political observers who, throughout the day, had been reporting that the Conservative and Lib Dem negotiators were "very close" to reaching a deal.

However, late yesterday afternoon the Lib Dem team said that it needed clarification on certain key policy areas. While the talks with the Conservatives will continue, Mr Clegg also asked for formal negotiations to open with Labour. Mr Brown's decision to quit seems to be the price to get Mr Clegg to enter into formal talks with Labour. The two men, between whom there is considerable personal animosity, met privately on Sunday and yesterday.

In a statement last night, Mr Brown said: "The reason that we have a hung parliament is that no single party and no single leader was able to win the full support of the country. "As leader of my party I must accept that as a judgment on me. I therefore intend to ask the Labour Party to set in train the processes needed for its own leadership election. "I would hope that it would be completed in time for the new leader to be in post by the time of the Labour Party conference [in September]. I will play no part in that contest, I will back no individual candidate."

Mr Brown showed little emotion as he read his prepared statement from a lectern set up outside the official residence of the prime minister in Downing Street. Dressed in a dark blue suit, he appeared slightly nervous but otherwise spoke in quick, assured tones as he signalled the end of his reign after less than three years in charge. Mr Brown, who will remain as prime minister at least until a new government can be formed, added: "Mr Clegg has just informed me that while he intends to continue his dialogue that he has begun with the Conservatives, he now wishes also to take forward formal discussions with the Labour Party.

"I believe it is sensible and it's in the national interest to respond positively." Despite the optimistic noises coming all day from the Conservative and Lib Dem negotiators, a deal was always going to be difficult for both parties, the former being to the right of centre, the latter to the left. Aside from fundamental disagreements over such crucial issues as the economy, education, defence and the European Union, the Lib Dems have always stressed that electoral reform, involving the introduction of proportional representation, would be a key condition of any deal.

The Conservatives, including Mr Cameron, are stalwart defenders of the existing, first-past-the-post system. Mr Brown, on the other hand, has offered Mr Clegg immediate legislation for a referendum on proportional representation. David Laws, who is heading the Lib Dem negotiating team, said that Mr Clegg would listen to representations from Mr Brown while clarification was sought from the Tories. There was agreement that the "central priority must be to form a strong and stable government in the national interest" and that reducing the deficit should be "at the heart of any agreement", Mr Laws said.

But he added that there was a need for "clarification" from the Tories over such issues as education funding, fair taxes and electoral reform. While Labour and the Lib Dems might seem more natural bedfellows - particularly with Mr Brown stepping down - the parliamentary arithmetic would still not add up unless minor parties, such as the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, could be brought into the fold.

Such a querulous grouping would also inevitably bring the charge that it was a coalition of losers. dsapsted@thenational.ae