British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced on Monday evening he was quitting as Labour leader as it was confirmed that he is to hold formal talks with the Liberal Democrats over a “progressive coalition” British government.
Mr Brown said he was asking the Labour Party to call a leadership election.
In a statement in Downing Street, Mr Brown said: “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 as a judgment on me. I therefore intend to ask the Labour Party to set in train the processes needed for its own leadership election.
“I would hope that it would be completed in time for the new leader to be in post by the time of the Labour Party conference.
“I will play no part in that contest, I will back no individual candidate.”
He also said he was to press ahead with “formal discussions” with the Liberal Democrats after the request from its leader, Nick Clegg -- despite Clegg’s continuing contacts with the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron.
The announcement has increased the possibility that the parties in the North could be asked to support a limited-term British parliament which would bring about immediate electoral reform.
The goal of proportional representation electoral system is a key issue to the Liberal Democrats and has been backed by Labour. However, it is abhorred by the Tories, despite some positive noises on the subject over the weekend from Cameron’s negotiators.
Brown said it was “sensible and in the national interest” to respond positively to the request by Clegg for negotiations.
He said the Cabinet would meet soon and a negotiation process would be established.
In a day of high drama at Westminster after Sky News claimed that the Liberal Democrats were close to agreement with the Tories, Mr Brown said his aim was to ensure a ``stable, strong and principled government’’ was formed.
“The Cabinet will meet soon,” he said. “A formal policy negotiating process is being established under the arrangements made by the Cabinet secretary similar to the negotiations between other parties.
“The first priority should be an agreed deficit reduction plan to support economic growth and a return to full employment.”
The move comes after Liberal Democrat MPs demanded clarification and protestors demanded an end to Clegg’s discussion with the Tories.
“There is a progressive majority in Britain and I believe it could be in the interests of the whole country to form a progressive coalition government,” said Brown.
Such a coalition would require the involvement of nationalists in Scotland, Wales or Ireland -- or even potentially the DUP. Nevertheless, support has grown among Britain’s left and centre-left for what Conservatives have dismissed as the ‘anyone but the Tories’ option.
The leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) Angus Robertson said it was “inevitable” Mr Brown would have to go and he had “done the right thing”. He said he believed a “progressive alliance” involving Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP which would “deliver the best result for the people of Scotland”.
The proposal would also likely win the support of the SDLP and the Alliance to provide the ‘Lib-Lab’ coalition with the required number of MPs at Westminster.
The SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie said she would “do what is best for Northern Ireland in the next parliament in Westminster”.
Independent unionist Sylvia Hermon has also indicated that she would support Labour.
“Obviously I would not be supporting Mr Cameron in his efforts to form the next government. Instead, I’m waiting and watching to see how the Lib Dems now respond to Gordon Brown’s overtures,” she said.
The Conservatives and Labour have accepted spending cuts are possible across Britain as its economy struggles with recession.
While Cameron criticised Belfast’s ‘Soviet’ dependency on the British subvention, Brown said on the eve of the election there he would implement no change to the North’s block grant.
The Sinn Fein leadership called on all parties to unite against any cuts which might be introduced by any new government.
Sinn President Gerry Adams said he contacted all party leaders to meet and discuss a strategy against any proposed cuts “which would impact mostly on front-line services and disadvantaged section of our community.”
“We need to have the mother of all negotiations with the Government in London and this assembly needs to unite and to have the active support of the trade union sector, the business community and the voluntary sector behind OFMDFM to deal with the issue of the bloc grant and to oppose cuts,” Mr Adams said.
Meanwhile, Michelle Gildernew’s four-vote victory in Fermanagh/South Tyrone over Rodney Connor, who had vowed to support the Conservatives at Westminster, may prove crucial despite Sinn Fein’s abstentionist policy at Westminster.
Ms Gildernew echoed the words of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands and former MP for the constituency as she thanked those who worked for her campaign.
“Bobby Sands said, everyone has a part to play no matter how small - this election was won by four seats so anyone who did five minutes of work for this helped the victory,” she said.