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Conservatives say it's decision time for UK's Liberal Democrats

Conservative leader David Cameron urged the third-party Liberal Democrats to make a deal quickly as negotiations over forming a coalition government intensified Tuesday.

By Correspondent / May 11, 2010

Britain's Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg speaks to the media outside his home in London on Tuesday. Clegg says he is anxious to resolve Britain's political impasse and hopes his party can make an announcement on its decision as quickly as possible.

Simon Dawson/AP

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London

After a knife-edge election in which no party emerged as the outright victor, talks aimed at forming Britain’s next government intensified Tuesday amid widespread expectations of a conclusion by the end of the day.

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Conservative leader David Cameron, whose party won the most seats but fell just short of a majority in Parliament, said this morning that it was “decision time” for the Liberal Democrats, the centrist third party with whom he has been negotiating to form a government.

“I hope they will make the right decision to give this country the strong, stable government that it badly needs and badly needs quickly,” he added.

A deal between the two sides had seemed almost certain until Monday night’s game-changing announcement by Prime Minister Gordon Brown that he would be stepping down within months – removing one of the biggest stumbling blocks to the ability of the Labour party to win the support of the Liberals.

Bidding war

The result? The formation of Britain’s next government has become the subject of a bidding war in which the Liberal Democrats are playing the two parties off against each other, with the smaller party still dreaming of changing the electoral system in order to end their days on the political fringe.

“I would have said on Monday that I would have been 80 percent confident that we were moving rapidly towards a Liberal–Conservative coalition,” says Mark Littlewood, current director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs and former head of media for the Liberal Democrats between December 2004 and May 2007.

After Mr. Brown’s resignation, Mr. Littlewood is now “slightly more than 50 percent” sure that such a pact will take shape, but warns that his former party’s renewed talks with Labour are trying the Conservative Party’s patience.

The Liberal Democrats want Britain’s voting system to be changed to a form of proportional representation, which would greatly increase their future seats in Parliament. Under the current system, the Liberal Democrats won almost a quarter of the overall vote last Thursday. But that earned only 9 percent of the parliamentary seats.

On Monday, the Tories made a limited counteroffer to the Liberal Democrats of a referendum on a less dramatic type of electoral reform.

However, it remains unclear if the Conservatives would campaign for the change. The third party is also seeking to extract an agreement from Labour that the electoral system would be changed by parliamentary legislation, bypassing the need to go to the public.

Lib-Lab coalition?

A so-called Lib-Lab coalition comes with two major dangers.

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