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Clegg not there yet as he battles to sell Tory coalition deal

Nick Clegg was today attempting to gain the backing of his Liberal Democrat party as he began discussions with the Conservatives over forming a coalition in Britain's election stalemate.

Senior figures from the two parties met today for talks on Tory leader David Cameron's "big, open and comprehensive" offer to work together in government after the election produced the first hung parliament in a generation.

Mr Cameron promised a committee of inquiry on reform of the electoral system -- long a key Lib Dem demand -- while shadow foreign secretary William Hague, a member of the Tory negotiating team, said cabinet places could also be on offer.


But despite the tantalising prospect of real power, Mr Clegg faces a hard sell to his own party -- many of whom remain instinctively hostile to the Conservatives and regard the prospect of entering a coalition with them as an anathema.

Following a meeting last night at Lib Dem headquarters between Mr Clegg and other senior party figures, energy spokesman Simon Hughes indicated that the talks with the Conservatives could take some time.

And earlier he warned that creating a committee of inquiry on voting reform would not be enough to secure an agreement and he questioned whether Mr Cameron could actually deliver real change.

"Whether he can carry his shadow cabinet with him, whether he can carry his colleagues with him, remains to be seen. There are some very die-hard people in the Tory Party," he said.

After another turbulent day on the markets, Mr Cameron made clear that he hoped a deal could be secured quickly in order to reassure investors that Britain had a strong and stable government.

He set out areas where he believed there were grounds for co-operation between the two parties, including helping poorer pupils, promoting "green" industries, and scrapping ID cards.

At the same time, however, he warned that he would not be prepared to compromise on issues of defence, immigration, and tackling the deficit in the public finances, where there remain significant differences between them.

Lib Dem scepticism about Tory plans may well mean that any agreement falls short of a full coalition.


Meanwhile, British prime minister Gordon Brown made clear he had not given up hope of striking a deal with the Lib Dems that would enable him to remain in office, despite losing more than 90 seats in the election.

He said he would be prepared to legislate immediately on electoral reform with a referendum to enable the public to choose which system they preferred.

But, while Labour make more natural bedfellows for the Lib Dems than the Tories, Mr Clegg may well be unwilling to prop up an unpopular premier who he has said publicly he does not trust.