Brown offers his head in British post-election drama.


After a day of high political drama, Britain’s embattled Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered his head as a sacrifice for his Labour Party continuing in power.

He would, said the luckless leader, step down if current efforts to build a stable government in Britain with the Liberal Democrats succeeded.

It was the latest move in a complex game of political chess played out in Britain after a general election that gave no party an absolute majority.

The voters wanted their leaders to try something new by considering coalition government – an alien concept in Britain’s traditional two-party system.

There can be no doubt that Brown’s move was forced on him by senior party figures who, desperate to hold on to power, told him straight to his face that he was the main obstacle to Labour’s dream of remaining in power.

All day Monday, his closest aides, Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell, had hammered home that message, relayed to them by Labour’s new suitor, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

Brown’s announced intention to leave, after a short three years as prime minister, was an “important element in the smooth transition to a stable government,” commented Clegg.

During the campaign, he had described Brown as a “desperate man whom I just don’t believe.” Senior Liberal Paddy Ashdown said Brown’s personality left little room for “collegiate government.”

Although the “Cleggmania” he sparked in the election campaign did not translate into vote gains for the Liberals, the 43-year-old Liberal Democrat leader has become the undisputed “kingmaker” of British politics.

After first negotiating for days with the Conservatives, led by David Cameron, Clegg turned the game around and knocked at Labour’s door. He said he would continue to speak to Cameron, also 43, with whom he has clearly built up a personal rapport.

It soon became clear, however, that what the two youthful leaders were so forcefully pushing for had failed the initial test of approval from their independently-minded parliamentary parties.

The Liberals, for their part, told Clegg to go and try the alternative option of a pact with Labour to push through key demands. Cameron, too, is likely to have a struggle to sell a deal.

The Liberals’ key demand for a fundamental reform of Britain’s voting system towards a form of proportional representation remains the main bone of contention with the Conservatives.

That is where Labour came into play, and Brown’s head became its price.

Analysts warned Monday that, while a Conservative-Liberal alliance might not have been what a majority of voters wanted, the prospect of having an “unelected” new Labour prime minister could also be difficult to accept.

With the outcome of the chess game still open, Brown will be the most important piece to be sacrificed so far.

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