Clegg won't prop up Gordon Brown

GORDON BROWN’S chances of clinging to power received another blow yesterday, when he was warned the Liberal Democrats would refuse to prop him up if he finishes third in the popular vote.

Some opinion polls suggest that Brown could come third in terms of votes but still win the most Commons seats, thanks to a first-past-the-post electoral system that is biased towards Labour. Privately, Labour strategists admit the only way they can stay in government is by forming a coalition with the Lib Dems in the event of a hung parliament.

But yesterday Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg dashed those hopes, warning he would not help Brown “squat” in Number 10 Downing Street if Labour comes third in votes.

“I think a party which has come third, and so millions of people have decided to abandon, has lost the election spectacularly, cannot then lay claim to providing the prime minister of this country,” Clegg said on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.

He added: “A very, very irrational possible outcome of our potty electoral system… is that a party that has spectacularly lost the election because fewer and fewer people are voting for it could… still lay claim to providing the Prime Minister of the country.”

An average of five opinion polls carried out for the Sunday newspapers puts the Tories on 35 per cent, the Lib Dems on 28 per cent and Labour on 27 per cent. That would result in a hung parliament with the Tories as the biggest party, 43 seats short of an overall majority.

Yesterday, David Cameron appeared to soften his stance on electoral reform, a “non-negotiable” demand that the Lib Dems would make before entering any coalition talks. The Tory leader suggested he was open to talks on the issue, whereas previously his support for Britain’s first-past-the-post system was resolute.

Tory strategists said they were still confident of getting a small, workable Commons majority, although they conceded this was “less likely” than before.

This week the party will try to highlight the dangers of voting in a government with a weak mandate that would have to work in coalition.

Meanwhile, Labour will today try to rejuvenate what has been a lacklustre election campaign by focusing on the economy, an area where party strategists think Brown has an advantage over his rivals. The party has written to the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, asking the broadcasters to focus on policy, rather than the televised leaders’ debates and the possible outcomes of a hung parliament.