LONDON – Britain went for a second day Saturday without a new government as the main parties haggled over possible power-sharing arrangements in a divided Parliament.
All eyes were on the Liberal Democrats, the smaller party that holds the balance of power after neither of the “big two,” Labor and the Conservatives, was able to achieve a majority of seats in the House of Commons in Thursday’s general election.
The Liberal Democrats’ leader, Nick Clegg, met Saturday with senior party representatives and newly elected members of Parliament to discuss an invitation by the Tories, as the Conservatives are known, to join them in some sort of coalition.
Clegg, who gained prominence after a telegenic turn in Britain’s first national debates, has said the Conservatives deserve the first chance of putting together a government after having won the most seats.
But there was no sign that a quick deal between the two parties was in the offing despite a meeting Saturday evening between Clegg and David Cameron, the Tory leader. Cameron has urged swift action to calm financial markets worried by the inconclusive election result.
Negotiators for the two parties were scheduled to meet for a second time today. Analysts said the bargaining looked set to drag on through Monday, past the opening of global markets, and possibly longer.
“We are keen for an early conclusion to these issues, but people will also understand that we are keen to make sure that we make the right long-term decisions for the people of this country,” David Laws, one of the Liberal Democrats’ negotiators, told reporters.
In talking with the Tories, Clegg and his party face a difficult choice that could come down to power vs. principles.
An article of faith for the Liberal Democrats is revision of Britain’s electoral system, which reinforces the two-party lock on politics. The system rewards the winning of parliamentary seats, so clumped-up support in individual voting districts ultimately carries more weight than evenly distributed support across the nation.
The distorted effects of that were on display Thursday when the Liberal Democrats captured 23 percent of votes nationally but were able to win less than 9 percent of the seats in Parliament.
But the Conservatives oppose any change to the system, and Cameron promised only that he would set up a multiparty committee to look into various options.
The danger for Clegg of compromising on the issue was made in noisy fashion by hundreds of protesters who gathered outside the party meeting in London. Warning those inside not to “sell out,” the demonstrators presented Clegg with a petition for electoral change after the meeting.