UK election results: David Cameron to attempt to form Tory government

Cautious backing of Liberal Democrats means Gordon Brown likely to be forced from No 10 after election results in hung parliament

David Cameron will today seek to establish a Conservative government after gaining the cautious support of the Liberal Democrats – meaning Gordon Brown will almost certainly be forced out of Downing Street.

A Tory spokesman said Cameron would make a statement at 2.30pm, in which he will "set out how he will seek to form a government that is strong and stable, with broad support, that acts in the national interest".

The Conservative leader must now decide whether to form a minority government or to do a deal with the Lib Dems. Any coalition with Nick Clegg's party would require the Tories to concede to Lib Dem demands for electoral reform.

Cameron's commitment to a "strong and stable" coalition with "broad" support suggests some form of coalition is on the cards.

Clegg today indicated that the Conservatives should have the first chance to form a government after securing the highest share of votes and seats in the general election.

Conceding that the election had been "disappointing" for his party, the Lib Dem leader made it clear that voting reform would be the condition of any decision to back a coalition.

His suggestion that the Tories should have the first opportunity to form a government runs contrary to constitutional convention, which dictates that the sitting prime minister has that entitlement.

But with the Lib Dem performance falling well below expectations and Labour receiving its worst drubbing since the second world war, the prospects of a Lib-Lab coalition appeared to be receding.

The Conservatives have opposed radical electoral reform, meaning the issue of proportional representation will be the key sticking point of any negotiations between the party and the Lib Dems.

Speaking on the steps of his party's headquarters, Clegg said: "I have said that whichever party gets the most votes and the most seats has the first right to seek to govern, either on its own or by reaching out to other parties, and I stick to that view.

"I think it is now for the Conservative party to prove that it is capable of seeking to govern in the national interest."

Brown today triggered the constitutional mechanism to establish a new government from the hung parliament, deploying teams of civil servants to the opposition parties to support negotiations aimed at forming a coalition.

In a statement issued by Downing Street, the prime minister effectively confirmed what the latest election results show – that a hung parliament is certain.

"The election results are likely to show there is no clear majority for any single party," the Brown statement said.

"As I said last night, it is my duty as prime minister to take all steps to ensure Britain has a strong, stable and principled government.

"This is, of course, chiefly a task for politicians and – in time – for parliament.

"But to facilitate this process, and consistent with the conventions set out in the draft cabinet manual, I have asked the cabinet secretary to arrange for the civil service to provide support on request to parties engaged in discussions on the formation of government."

With just a few seats left to declare, Cameron asserted that the Tories were on course to gain more seats than at any time in 80 years. He said it was clear the country wanted change that required new leadership.

The Tories currently hold 291 seats, Labour 246 and the Lib Dems 51. Cameron needed 326 to win an overall majority – something now out of the Tories' reach.

Early today, sources in the party said they expected to reach 314, which would be enough to operate with the support of the Democratic Unionists in Northern Ireland.

This morning, Lord Mandelson told Sky News that Brown's duty was "to stay at his post".

"The prime minister's duty is ... 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," he said.

"The prime minister can't just resign and leave a vacuum for the Queen to deal with."

Referring to the prospect of a hung parliament, 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."

Asked whether Brown could stand down as PM today, he said: "I think that would be rather a surprising thing to happen.

"He is the prime minister. I don't think it would help matters if he were suddenly to stand aside."

Amid vastly different regional swings, the results showed strong Labour resilience outside the south, and the Lib Dems badly underperformed against the euphoric expectations of only a week ago. It appeared they might end up with 62 seats, down one.

Brown last night 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.

Clegg, however, is said to be wary of forming a "coalition of the defeated" that could be seen as ignoring the public mood.

The initial exit poll, released at 10pm yesterday, showed the Conservatives on a predicted 307, Labour 255 and the Lib Dems 59.

Shadow ministers warned that the bond markets would not tolerate the lack of stable government. The shadow chancellor, George Osborne, last night told Labour to "get real" about trying to cling to power.

But Cameron took a more measured tone, saying: "I believe it's already clear that the Labour government has lost its mandate to govern our country."

The Tory leader, reflecting on the coming battle for power with 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, Brown held out the prospect of trying to secure a coalition with the Lib Dems.

Brown's aides said they would try to form a progressive alliance if the Tories did not score as many as 320 seats. Private talks between intermediaries started almost as soon as the polls closed, but few were willing to predict the outcome.

The former home secretary Jacqui Smith was the most high-profile victim of the expenses scandal, losing her ultra-marginal Redditch seat to the Tories by 6,000 votes.

Other Labour casualties included another ex-home secretary, Charles Clarke, and the ministers Vera Baird, Mike O'Brien, Bill Rammell and former minister Tony McNulty.

But the schools secretary, Ed Balls, narrowly held off a strong Tory challenge and declared: "People say New Labour is finished. New Labour is renewed tonight – we will fight on."

Ed Miliband, the energy secretary, said the people had spoken, but "we don't know quite what they have said".


Polly Curtis and Patrick Wintour

The GuardianTramp

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