Liberal Democrats party, which is likely to be a major contender of power in the May 6 UK general elections has made it clear that Prime Minister Gordon Brown has to go, if the Labour party finishes third in the electoral battle.

But, Liberal party leader Nick Clegg offered Labour a lifeline, saying he would not swerve with the party if ministers backed his plans to bring in proportional representation, comments seen in Westminster as a pitch for the top job himself.

Mr. Clegg said, he would not prop up a defeated Labour party with Mr. Brown at its helm.

“It is just preposterous, the idea that if a party comes third in the number of votes, it still has somehow the right to carry on squatting in No 10.”

He indicated that he could make the keys to No 10 the price of a Liberal Democrat pact.

“I think a party which has come third — and so millions of people have decided to abandon them — has lost the election spectacularly and cannot then lay claim to providing the prime minister of this country.”

Hours after Mr. Clegg made his position clear, the Home Secretary risked deepening internal tensions by using a television interview to say that he did not share the ‘horror’ of some colleagues at the prospect of power—sharing.

The Labour party’s struggle to overcome the Liberal Democrat surge broke out into open with Home Secretary Alan Johnson positioning himself to lead the party’s post—election talks with Mr. Clegg.

Mr. Johnson agreed that it would be “much more difficult” for Labour to form a government if it came third and burnished his own credentials as a long—standing supporter of electoral reform. With ten days to go until the election, a YouGov poll in The Sun today confirmed that Labour is in third place.

The first postal votes have been cast already and start arriving at town halls today. The YouGov poll last night put the Tories on 34 per cent, Liberal Democrats on 30 and Labour on 28. The vagaries of the electoral system mean that this could still leave Labour as the largest party in terms of constituencies won.

Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary, later criticised Mr. Clegg’s focus on “process and hung parliaments”, a rebuke that could also have been intended for his Cabinet colleague.

Last week he said “coalition politics is not the way of doing government”. Mr. Brown appeared on edge at the launch of his green manifesto in London yesterday, arriving late for his speech. Instead of discussing the environment, he used the opportunity to attack a range of Tory policies.

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