Defiant Premier makes symbolic gesture of returning to seat of power

Gordon Brown returned to Downing Street — the London home of the British Premier — on Friday morning in a symbolic gesture that he is still Prime Minister, as all three of the main party leaders awaited the final results that will determine where the power lies in what certain to be a hung Parliament.

Mr. Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron are locked in a constitutional standoff. The Tory leader claimed Labour had lost the right to govern but the Prime Minister, confident the Tories had not secured an overall majority, said he would look to see if he could form an alliance with the Liberal Democrats.

All three leaders are now regrouping to plan their next move. Mr. Brown has the Constitution on his side and will have the first chance to form a government. But the Tories are claiming he does not retain the “moral authority” to govern, given the scale of the defeat, and the Lib Dems are wary of a coalition that does not have popular support, given their disappointing performance at the polls.

With just a few seats left to declare, Mr. Cameron asserted that his party was on course to gain more seats than at any time in 80 years. He said it was clear that the country wants change that requires new leadership. He needs 326 to win an overall majority, something Tory insiders privately accept is out of their reach. Sources in the party said early on Friday that they expected to reach 314, which would be enough to operate with the support of the Democratic Unionists in Northern Ireland.

Lord Mandelson told Sky News this morning : “The Prime Minister's duty is to stay at his post, to continue doing his job and not resign until it is clear who the Queen should call as an alternative to form a new government, should Mr Brown not be able to do so. The Prime Minister can't just resign and leave a vacuum for the Queen to deal with.” In the case of a hung Parliament, Lord Mandelson said: “Either there has to be a minority government which tries its chances or a combination of other parties — in this case most likely the Labour party and Liberal Democrats — would have to see if they can form some arrangement instead.” Amid vastly different regional swings, the results showed strong Labour resilience outside the south, and the Lib Dems had badly underperformed against euphoric expectations of only a week ago.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was said to be depressed by the result, and wary of forming a “coalition of the defeated” that might be seen as ignoring the public mood. Mr. Brown flew to London from his Scottish constituency to offer the Lib Dems the chance to form a stable government, culminating in a referendum on electoral reform for the Commons.

Mr. Clegg will wait to see the final result and meet his new group of MPs tomorrow. Some in his party will claim he can form a stable coalition for two years to deliver recovery and political reform, but others will be nervous of appearing to shun the electorate's will. The Tory leader, reflecting on the coming battle for power with Mr. Brown, promised to put the national interest first in “the hours ahead, or perhaps longer than the hours ahead”.

Speaking after he had been returned in Kirkcaldy with an increased majority, Mr. Brown said: “My duty to the country coming out of this election is to play my part in Britain having a strong, stable and principled government able to lead Britain into sustained economic recovery and able to implement our commitments to far—reaching reform upon which there is a growing consensus in our country.” Mr. Brown's aides said they would try to form a progressive alliance if the Tories did not score as high as 320 seats. Private talks between intermediaries started almost as soon as the polls closed, but few were willing to predict the outcome. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

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