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'Very positive' Lib Dems Tory talks finish

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 11 May 2010

Liberal Democrat MPs and officials meet to discuss the details of their deal agreed with the Conservatives as David Cameron prepares to go to Buckingham Palace tonight to formally become the country's next prime minister.


The development came as Gordon Brown announced he was standing down as prime minister.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is briefing the party's executive members and MPs at 8.30pm after a further day of talks with the Conservatives.

The party representatives said little as they left the cabinet office.

William Hague, shadow foreign secretary said: "We've completed our discussions in a very positive atmosphere and we now have some recommendations to take back to David Cameron and to our parliamentary colleagues, the Conservative MPs."

Channel 4 News understands the likely deal will include a promise to force through parliament by a three-line whip a referendum on introducing the Alternative Vote (AV) system.

It would also ditch any proposal to cut the inheritance tax threshold, and end plans to recognise marriage in the tax system.

The coalition deal could also introduce fixed term parliaments of four or five years, ending the ability of the prime minister to call a snap election.

The Lib Dems would also get some cabinet and government seats.

Conservative MPs have also been put on standby to meet this evening around 8pm, amid growing confidence that the talks would install Mr Cameron in No 10.

Political editor Gary Gibbon's analysis
Nick Clegg needs 75 per cent from each group – it sounds as though at the moment he is thinking of putting them in the same room. This might be a way of getting pressure on the executive dissidents and any dissident MPs to give unanimous approval to what one well-known Lib Dem MP is calling "the best of a bad bunch" of options on offer.

They will certainly feel the pressure on them. The world's cameras pointing at them, their entire leadership's reputation and standing on the line.

There's much more enthusiasm than that amongst the younger generation of Lib Dem MPs for the deal now being finalised. There is a generational split that's been on show in the party in the last few days and an English/Scottish one to some extent. Nick Clegg must overcome those and will be hoping tonight's meeting keeps the tensions under wraps.

Negotiations between the Liberal Democrats and the other parties resumed today after yesterday's dramatic events which saw Gordon Brown announce his resignation and the Conservatives offer a referendum on electoral reform.

However talks with Labour appear to have ended. Political editor Gary Gibbon noted the Lib Dem negotiator Danny Alexander told his MPs and some peers last night that the Labour negotiating team, particularly Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, were "not giving off good vibes".

Mr Clegg also met David Cameron for an hour this morning.

But, as Conservative and Liberal Democrat negotiators resumed talks at the Cabinet Office this afternoon, Ed Miliband said he thought there was "a good atmosphere" during the Labour talks and he hoped they would continue.

On arriving for further talks with the Liberal Democrats, Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said the negotiators were attending the meeting to hear the Lib Dem response to their offer.

From political editor Gary Gibbon:
Andy Burnham has now broken cover on BBC World at One and said the election decision should be respected. At Cabinet yesterday, he spoke out against the idea of a Rainbow coaltion, as did Bob Ainsworth, Sadiq Khan and Jack Straw.
Ed Balls didn't come across to the Lib Dem negotiating team as being very engaged with the idea of coalition. How will all this play in the Labour leadership contest? 

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg told reporters this morning that negotiations had reached a "critical and final stage".

"I'm as impatient as anybody else to get on with this, to resolve matters one way or another" he said. "We will act as ever responsibly, we will act to try and do our bit to create a stable, good government that the British people deserve.

"I really hope that we will be able to make an announcement so we can clear up everything and explain to people exactly what our thinking is as quickly as we possibly can."

Leaving his London home this morning, David Cameron said that his MPs had put aside party interest for the national interest.

"It is now, I believe, decision time, decision time for the Liberal Democrats," he said, in a statement to encourage Mr Clegg's party to accept the Conservative offer.

"I hope they make the right decision that will give this country the strong stable government that it badly needs, and badly needs quickly."

Senior Conservative MP Michael Gove told Channel 4 News he does still trust Nick Clegg and he was "hopeful" they would accept the party's "generous offer".

"I think it is entirely understandable that the Liberal Democrats should seek to talk to both parties," he said.

"Naturally I think it would be in their interests and in the country's interests to accept the generous offer that we've made.

"The whole of the Conservative party last night met and said, 'look we are prepared to put aside our party interest for the good of the country' and I hope that the Liberal Democrats will see that that is a generous offer which is intended to make it easier for them to join with us in doing what's best for the country."

The Lib Dems have been in talks about forming a coalition government following the results of last week's general election which saw no party gain a parliamentary majority.

Their talks with the Conservatives have been going on since Friday. While the Lib Dems sought "clarification" from the Tories on issues of education funding, fairer taxes and voting reform yesterday Gordon Brown was readying a statement to announce his resignation.

The rise and fall of Gordon Brown
- Gordon Brown to stand down as Labour leader
- The key events of Brown's political career
- Who Knows Who: Gordon Brown

The Prime Minister told a press conference outside No. 10 that he would stand down as leader from September - an announcement which opened doors for formal coalition talks to between Labour and the Lib Dems to begin.

Within hours the Tories had offered a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) electoral system in a last ditch attempt to forge a Con-Lib power-sharing deal.

Tory leader David Cameron had previously stopped short of promising a referendum on electoral reform. He had offered an all-party committee of inquiry on political and electoral reform to look at possible changes.

Many senior Liberal Democrat ministers see electoral reform as a crucial part of their manifesto. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg wants proportional representation to replace the current first past the post system and give smaller parties wider representation in the House of Commons.

But former Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, who lost his Oxford West & Abingdon seat last week, told Channel 4 News: "If the Liberal Democrats do a deal with the Conservatives delivering coalition government it will be for two reasons.

"Firstly for stability, because the numbers do add up and a coalition would be stable if there was agreement, and secondly because there wasn't really a stable possible alternative from the Labour party."

Lib Dems call for 'clarification' on Tory deal
- Tories offer voting change referendum to Lib Dems

'Coalition of the defeated'
The idea of a Lib-Lab deal has met with opposition amongst Labour ranks. Former home secretary David Blunkett warned today that a "coalition of the defeated" would be disasterous for the party at the next election, and said the Lib Dems were acting like "every harlot in history".

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "I don't like what is taking place at all."

"I don't believe it will bring stability, I believe it will lead to a lack of legitimacy, and I think the British people will feel that we have not heard what they said to us, which, in the tragedy of 91 of my colleagues losing their seats, was that we didn't have their full confidence."

Another former home secretary, John Reid, echoed his concerns, telling GMTV: "The problem is that if we take that decision which most people will regard as not bringing stability then it may be perceived as acting in our own self-interest.

"The public aren't daft."

And cabinet minister Douglas Alexander told BBC Radio Scotland that he could "not envisage" his party would form a coalition including the SNP. A coalition just between Labour and the Lib Dems would not have a majority in Westminster.

But Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, said a deal between Labour and the SNP was possible, telling Channel 4 News: "The Liberals and the Labour party would have to get together on a programme and then make approaches to other parties. Arithmetically there is an alternative if that is the direction they want to go.

"But if that was the direction they wanted to go, and there was good will and it was in the interests of all of the people of these islands, then the SNP would step up to the plate."

The idea of a Conservative-Liberal coalition has also not met with resounding support from senior Lib Dem figures. Former leader Lord Ashdown told the Today programme: "Here is the question, you will have a party in power that is rabidly anti-European (in the Conservative party).

"We may have to stomach that in the interests of the nation, but you have on the one hand the question of stability and the other the question of what is the programme that is best for the country."

Under the Labour party rulebook, Gordon Brown's successor as leader will be chosen by an "electoral college" process involving Labour MPs and MEPs, grassroots activists and affiliated organisations, including trade unions.

Following the meeting of Labour's National Executive Committee, a party spokesman said they had agreed to meet again "in the days and weeks ahead" to determine the timetable and the procedures for electing a new leader.

Ballots of the three sections of the electoral college will be conducted in time for the new leader to be named by the party's annual conference in Manchester at the end of September.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband has emerged as an early favourite to take over from Gordon Brown according to the bookmakers.

William Hill said they had received more than 25 bets, each worth more than £1,000, on who the next Labour leader would be within hours of Brown's announcement.

William Hill have David Miliband as 4/7 odds on favourite, with Chancellor Alistair Darling at 8/1, Mr Johnson at 10/1 and Ed Miliband at 11/1.

This morning, David Miliband insisted: "No candidates will be declaring anything until the future of the government has been sorted out – either a Conservative-Liberal government or a Labour-Liberal government.

"And I think it's very important that we allow those talks to deliver a stable government for the country to continue.

"I'm certainly not going to be saying anything more, and none of the candidates are going to be saying anything more either."

Ed Balls also refused to be drawn on his ambitions, saying: "There'll be plenty of time for those kind of things in weeks and weeks time, but not now."

However the continued uncertainty at Westminster has left some voters cold.

"The worst thing you can have is a hung parliament," a stall owner in central London told Channel 4 News.

"I don't know a lot about politics but I know it's not good for the country. It's like having two captains and one football team."

Another reiterated this point saying "I just hope they can sort it out soon so we can have someone in charge."

The comedian Griff Rhys Jones told Channel 4 News at a book signing in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, how the Westminster impasse had left him a "state of misery about the whole thing."

"This is supposed to be an advertisement for the glories of proportional presentation," he said.


"I think the vast majority of people find it rather depressing."

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