The head of Britain’s third party
indicated on Tuesday that the departure of Prime Minister Gordon Brown could
open the way to a coalition with ruling Labour if next week’s election is not
Surveys indicate no party will
secure an overall parliamentary majority on 6 May for the first time since 1974
— a result Prime Minister Brown’s Labour party and his main rivals, the
Conservatives, are desperate to avoid.
Such an outcome would be a boon for
the long-overshadowed Liberal Democrats, whose support could be pivotal in
forming a new government.
The centrist party — which has
jumped into second from third place in the popular vote in many polls — and
centre-left Labour, are seen as potential partners.
Britain’s winner-takes-all voting
system means Labour will almost certainly get more seats than the Lib Dems, and
could even outscore the centre-right Conservatives, with a smaller national
percentage of votes.
Speaking on BBC radio on Clegg
indicated that he would not work with Gordon Brown as prime minister, but had
not ruled out an alliance with Labour, in power since 1997.
“I think many people … would
find it a bit peculiar that someone could remain in Number 10 (the prime
minister’s residence) even though they’ve come last in terms of the votes
cast,” he said.
British business leaders have
serious doubts about the Conservatives’ choice of finance-minister-in-waiting,
and fear an inconclusive election will hit the economy.
The Conservatives have consistently
led in the polls, but their lead has shrunk in recent months, and in the last
12 days it has been threatened by a surge in support for the Lib Dems after
Clegg’s strong performance in televised debates.
The Conservatives are urging voters
to give them a decisive victory to avoid a “hung parliament” with no
absolute majority. They say this would unnerve financial markets, which want
urgent action to cut the budget deficit, now over 11 per cent of GDP.
The independent Institute for
Fiscal Studies thinktank said on Tuesday the main parties were being too
ambitious about what they could achieve through spending cuts and may end up
raising taxes more than they are prepared to admit.
With public spending expected to be
slashed whoever wins, the parties have been reluctant to risk voter wrath by
clearly identifying the extent of cuts.