LONDON: The Conservatives on Saturday stepped up pressure on the Liberal Democrats to agree to a power-sharing deal by dangling the prospects of plum Cabinet posts even as Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke to Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg with an offer of talks.
There were reports that it was a rather unpleasant conversation during which Mr. Brown reportedly “ranted” but a Lib Dem spokesperson said it was “perfectly amicable”. It is well known that the two leaders have a mutual dislike and Mr. Clegg reportedly wants Labour to change their leader as a condition for his party's support.
A large crowd of Lib Dem supporters held a noisy demonstration as Mr. Clegg held a meeting with his MPs to discuss the Conservative offer. Protesters were opposed to any compromise on the party's demand for electoral reforms to replace the current first-past-the-post system with proportional representation — an issue on which the Conservatives are not willing to make any concessions while Labour have promised a referendum as part of a deal.
Mr. Clegg was forced to come out and meet the protesters telling them that he believed it was in national interest to “use this opportunity to usher in a new politics”.
With both the Conservatives and Labour desperately trying to win over the Lib Dems, former Conservative Prime Minister John Major suggested that they should be offered seats in the Cabinet as a “price” to ensure political stability at a time of deep economic crisis.
“If that's the price to ensure we have economic stability then that's the way I think we should go,” he said ahead of a meeting of Conservative-Lib Dem negotiating teams, scheduled for Sunday.
Representatives of the two parties have already met once since the Conservative leader David Cameron made what he described as a “big, open and comprehensive offer” to the Lib Dems on Friday.
Observers said the moves had “echoes” of 1974 when the then Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath, attempted a deal with the Liberal Party but failed, paving the way for Labour's Harold Wilson to form a short-lived minority government.