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Electoral reform dilemma for Kingmaker Clegg

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David Cameron has issued an invitation to the Liberal Democrats to form a stable government with the Conservatives, preferring long-term compromise to trying run a minority administration.

If taken up, the "big, open, comprehensive offer" is likely to mean Liberal Democrats would take up cabinet positions, rather than merely agreeing to vote through key budget legislation, a so-called confidence and supply agreement.

On the central negotiating issue of electoral reform, he suggested an all-party inquiry to set out options, but emphasised tweaks to the current system rather than the switch to proportional representation desired by the Liberal Democrats.

Nick Clegg's party has insisted Cameron has the first right to try to govern. Now the Tory leader has made them an offer, the Liberal Democrats' question is whether an inquiry into electoral reform, taking a minimum of several months, is satisfactory.

Cameron said the Tories would also be willing to give ground on a number of policy areas, and help Nick Clegg implement "key planks" of his election manifesto.

He emphasised the areas they agree on, such as scrapping ID cards, reforming school funding and reversing Labour's national insurance rise. However he also said the Conservatives would not change their stance on the EU, immigration or "keeping our defences strong" - a reference to Nick Clegg's opposition to the renewal of the Trident nuclear submarine fleet.

Earlier, Gordon Brown said he would defer any Labour approach to the Liberal Democrats until their talks with Cameron break down. He emphasised he was willing to move on electoral reform quickly.

The Liberal Democrat parliamentary party is scheduled to meet over the weekend to discuss their next move. In the meantime Nick Clegg and his senior colleagues will launch behind the scenes negotiations. ®

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