January 22, 2010 / 10:38 AM / 10 years ago

Conservative chair says hung parliament hideous

LONDON (Reuters) - The Conservatives, favourites to win an election due by June, say an inconclusive vote would be bad for the country and produce a short-lived government.

Conservative Party chairman, Eric Pickles, poses after an interview with Reuters in his office in the Houses of Parliament in London January 20, 2010. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

The Conservatives have slipped in recent polls to a 10-point lead over Labour, enough to become the largest party but possibly not enough to command a majority, because of the uneven distribution of the vote due to the first-past-the-post electoral system.

The prospect of the first hung parliament for over 30 years, with no party in overall control, makes financial markets nervous when Britain is running a record 178 billion pound budget deficit.

Conservative party chairman Eric Pickles told Reuters such an outcome would create real problems for a country struggling to come out of recession and to clean up its finances.

“It would be utterly dreadful,” said Pickles. “No one would have a clear mandate, it would be hideous, it would be hand-to-mouth and it wouldn’t last very long.”

Speaking to Reuters in his Westminster office, Pickles insisted the Conservatives had done no deals in advance with the Liberal Democrat opposition, who could control the balance of power after an inconclusive vote.

“There are no deals being done, there are no suggestions, there are no tentative feelers going out, we are concentrating on trying to win the election.”

TOUGH TASK

Pickles, 57, a sardonic and softly spoken Yorkshireman, said he was “brimming with confidence” but added: “I don’t want you to get the impression that I think that this is a slamdunker.”

The party, revived under the leadership of David Cameron, needs to gain 117 seats just to win a majority of one in parliament.

“It’s a big ask,” says Pickles, noting that it required a bigger vote swing than former prime minister Margaret Thatcher obtained when she swept the Conservatives into power in 1979.

Cameron probably needs another 30 or 40 seats in addition to have a workable majority in parliament.

The date of the election remains the prerogative of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is widely expected to pick May 6 to coincide with local elections but could try and gain a tactical advantage by going sooner.

Pickles said an earlier date would cause no difficulties, with Conservative candidates selected for all but a handful of the 650 parliamentary seats up for grabs.

“Yes, without hesitation, without qualification, we could go tomorrow,” said Pickles, in charge of coordinating the party’s campaign.

CLASS WAR

Cameron appointed Pickles as party chairman last January after he masterminded a by-election victory for a vacant parliamentary seat in the former railway town of Crewe, the party’s first such success for 26 years.

Analysts said Pickles, a grocer’s son who went to a local state-funded school and humble Leeds Polytechnic, was the perfect antidote to Cameron, who attended elite public school Eton and Oxford University.

But Pickles said he did not see that as his objective.

“I think you’ve got to be a very particular type to become obsessed by class.”

“On the doorstep I think people find David Cameron to be very accessible ... David is our greatest asset — he has taken a party that was doomed to be second place for decades into one that stands a reasonable chance of becoming a government.” (Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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