Gordon Brown’s statement: full transcript

“I have no desire to stay in my position longer than is needed.”

Gordon Brown, 5pm, Monday 10 May 2010:

We have a parliamentary and not presidential system in this country, and as I said on Friday, with no party able to command a parliamentary majority arising from the general election, my constitutional duty as Prime Minister is to ensure that government continues while parties explore options for forming a new administration with majority support in the House of Commons.

The business of government has continued, including concerted action in Europe today to avert the financial crisis in the euro area. Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, spent much of his time yesterday in the European finance ministers' meeting in Brussels.

This morning I have had conversations with the president of the European Council, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund and the president of the European Central Bank. I have said I would do all I could to ensure that a stable, strong and principled government is formed, able to tackle Britain's economic and political challenges effectively.

As we know, the Liberal Democrats felt that they should first talk to the Conservative Party. Mr Clegg has just informed me that while he intends to continue his dialogue that he has begun with the Conservatives, he now wishes also to take forward formal discussions with the Labour Party. I believe it is sensible and it is in the national interest to respond positively.

The cabinet will meet soon. 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. I know that both parties recognise the importance of ensuring economic stability in the markets and protecting Britain's standing, and both are agreed on the need for a strong and full deficit reduction plan over the coming years.

There is also a progressive majority in Britain and I believe it could be in the interests of the whole country to form a progressive coalition government. In addition to the economic priorities, in my view only such a progressive government can meet the demand for political and electoral change which the British people made last Thursday. Our commitments on a new voting system for the House of Commons and for the election of the House of Lords are clearly part of this.

I would however like to say something also about my own position. If it becomes clear that the national interest, which is stable and principled government, can be best served by forming a coalition between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, then I believe I should discharge that duty, to form that government, which would in my view command a majority in the House of Commons in the Queen's Speech and any other confidence votes.

But I have no desire to stay in my position longer than is needed to ensure the path to economic growth is assured and the process of political reform we have agreed moves forward quickly. 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 that is a judgement 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.

I believe that the British people now want us to focus on the economy, the continuing fight against terrorism -- the terrorist threat to our country -- they want us to continue to pursue the economic recovery, and I will do so with my usual vigour and determination and I will do all in my power to support the British troops whose service and sacrifice create a debt of gratitude we can never fully repay. And I believe on Thursday the country was also telling us that they want a new politics and that the political reforms we seek will help deliver that change. I now intend to facilitate the discussions that the Liberal Democratic party has asked for. Thank you very much. As you will understand, I will take no questions this evening. Other discussions can be had later. Thank you very much.

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.