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. 

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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.