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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gordon Brown quits as UK prime minister

Conservative leader David Cameron became Britain's new prime minister Tuesday, ending 13 years of Labor Party rule and opening the door to an unprecedented coalition government with the third-party Liberal Democrats.

After three days of negotiations between the parties, Cameron emerged from Buckingham Palace, where Queen Elizabeth II formally invited him to form a government. The Conservatives fell just short of a majority in last week's election and sought the support of the Liberal Democrats to solidify their grip on power.

Cameron left the palace for the prime minister's official Downing Street residence, which had been vacated earlier by Gordon Brown. Early in the day, Brown stepped down as prime minister and Labor leader, having failed in his own attempt to strike a deal with the Liberal Democrats.

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Announcing his resignation, Brown said he was making way for a new leader.

"It was a privilege to serve, and yes, I love the job, not for its prestige, its titles and its ceremony, which I do not love at all," Brown said, with his wife, Sarah, at his side. "No, I love the job for its potential to make this country I love fairer, more tolerant, more green, more democratic, more prosperous and more just, truly a greater Britain.

"I have always strived to serve, to do my best in the interest of Britain, its values and its people," he said.

His voice cracked as he thanked his wife and two sons.

He then climbed into his armored car to attend one final audience as Britain's leader with Queen Elizabeth II, where he would tender his resignation and pave the way for David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, to take over as the youngest prime minister in nearly two centuries.

Such a changeover in government would close the door on 13 years of "New Labor," the centrist experiment and party makeover pioneered by Tony Blair. Brown, 59, served as Blair's formidable No. 2 for a decade before finally inheriting the top job three years ago.

Later Tuesday, Cameron, 43, is expected to announce a power-sharing deal with the Liberal Democrats that will see the smaller, left-leaning party in government for the first time in decades. Cameron's Cabinet is likely to include senior figures from the Liberal Democrats such as Nick Clegg, the party's leader.

Clegg, who is the same age as Cameron, has been in the position of kingmaker since Thursday's general election, which produced the first divided Parliament without a single-party majority in 36 years. The Liberal Democrats came in third, but held the balance of power.

The expected coalition government is a marriage few would have foreseen only a few weeks ago and could yet prove unstable. The two parties diverge on many policy issues, but after five days of negotiation, they were on the verge Tuesday of striking a bargain acceptable to both sides.

Part of any deal probably would be movement on the Liberal Democrats' key demand of reform to Britain's electoral system, which tends to produce governments elected without a majority of the popular vote.

In exchange, the Conservatives, as the dominant partner, will probably be able to push through their agenda of spending cuts to rein in Britain's runaway budget deficit.

Hopes of an alternative Labor-Liberal Democrat alliance flared Monday when Brown offered to step down from office by the fall, meeting a demand from Clegg and others. But talks between the two parties Tuesday apparently went nowhere.

Under the charismatic Blair, Labor won three elections. But Brown was unable to keep the momentum going after becoming prime minister when Blair stepped down in 2007.

Voter exhaustion after two wars, some parliamentary scandals and a harsh economic downturn led to a sound defeat at the polls for Labor.

Brown said he would step down immediately from his post as party leader, and may leave politics altogether rather than remain a backbench member of Parliament.

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