As Britain continues its post-election hangover with still no new government in place, both Labour and the Conservatives have made dramatic bids for power.
First the prime minister Gordon Brown made an audacious attempt to keep second-placed Labour in the fray. He said he would stand down as party leader by September, paving the way for a possible deal with the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems, he said, wanted to talk to Labour as well as the Tories.
“I believe it is sensible and it is in the national interest to respond positively,” said the prime minister. “The reason that we have a hung parliament is that no single party and no single leader was able to win the full support of the country. As leader of my party, I must accept that is a judgement on me.”
David Cameron’s Conservatives, who won the most seats but no overall majority, have been locked in talks with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats. But four days after the election there is still no deal.
“We haven’t yet reached a comprehensive partnership agreement,” said the Lib Dem leader. “That is why given the urgency of the need to have a resolution to this whole situation, we think it’s the right thing, the responsible thing, to open talks – on exactly the same basis as we’ve been having with the Conservative party – with the Labour party.”
Both Labour and the Tories have been courting the Lib Dems with promises of electoral reform. The Conservatives replied by making a “final offer”. Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said they were prepared to “go the extra mile”.
“We will offer to the Liberal Democrats in a coalition government, the holding of a referendum on the Alternative vote system, so that the people of this country can decide what the best electoral system is for the future,” he said.
Keeping a discreet distance is the Queen. She has returned to London, and though she has no say, her job is to invite someone to form a government and become prime minister – once the parties decide who that person will be.