Conservative leader David Cameron has reached out to the Liberal Democrats in an effort to form a government – after yesterday’s UK general election resulted in the first hung parliament since 1974.
Earlier, Labour leader and still the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown made similar overtures to the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg who now holds the balance of power.
Cameron, whose party won most seats but was short of a majority, said he wanted to make a “big open and comprehensive offer” to the Lib Dems.
BBC political editor Nick Robinson said it could include Lib Dems in cabinet.
Labour leader Gordon Brown has already stressed his party’s “common ground” with the third biggest party.
The Tories are expected to get 305 seats, just short of the 326 needed for an outright majority. Labour are expected to end with 255 MPs and the Lib Dems 61.
Past practice under Britain’s unwritten constitution sees the sitting prime minister in a hung parliament having the right to make the first attempt at forming a ruling coalition.
But Mr Cameron said Mr Brown had “lost his mandate to govern” after the Conservatives won the most votes and the most seats and Nick Clegg, leader of the third biggest party the Lib Dems, said he believed the result gave the Tories the right to seek to govern first.
He referred to the “outgoing Labour government” in his speech. But Mr Brown said he was making his statement “as prime minister with a constitutional duty to seek to resolve the situation for the good of the country”.
The Conservative leader said: “We need a government that reassures the international markets. We need policies that will bring economic recovery. And we need a government that understands that great change is needed in order to restore faith in our political system.”
He said talks would begin with other parties. He said one option was to offer them reassurances about certain policy areas – then try to govern as a minority Conservative government.
But he said he was prepared to consider alternatives and it might be possible “to have stronger, more stable, more collaborative government than that”.
“I want to make a big, open and comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats. I want us to work together in tackling our country’s big and urgent problems – the debt crisis, our deep social problems and our broken political system,” he said.
While there were policy disagreements between the Tories and Lib Dems – including on the European Union and defence – there were also “many areas of common ground”.
The Conservatives agreed with the Lib Dem on ideas such as a “pupil premium” in schools, a low-carbon economy, tax reform and shared opposition to Labour’s ID cards scheme.
But he did not pledge a referendum on changing the voting system – a key concern of the Lib Dems – instead offering an “all party committee of inquiry on political and electoral reform”.
“I think we have a strong basis for a strong government. Inevitably the negotiations we’re about to start will involve compromise. That is what working together in the national interest means,” Mr Cameron said.
BBC political editor Nick Robinson said Mr Cameron had not ruled out a coalition, with places for Liberal Democrats in a Conservative-led government.
But he said while he doubted the Lib Dems would take them up on the offer, they might be prepared to let Mr Cameron govern by not voting down the Queen’s Speech or budget – which would allow them not to be tainted by decisions they did not like.
However former Conservative prime minister John Major told the BBC offering Lib Dems cabinet seats was “a price, in the national interest, that I personally would be prepared to bear” for the formation of a stable government able to manage the economic crisis.
Lib Dem sources told the BBC Mr Cameron’s offer was a “significant step” and they would consider all the proposals and respond in due course.
Earlier, outside No 10, Mr Brown said he would be “willing to see any of the party leaders” adding: “I understand and completely respect the position of Mr Clegg in stating that he wishes first to make contact with the leader of the Conservative Party.”
But he added “should the discussions between Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg come to nothing… I would be prepared to discuss with Mr Clegg the areas where there may be some measure of agreement between our two parties”.
He said there were areas of “substantial common ground” – including reforming the voting system and plans to ensure economic stability, he said.