UK party leaders fight off coalition claims

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LABOUR and the Conservatives are fighting off claims that they would be forced into a deal with the SNP or Ukip after the two main party leaders failed to deliver a knock-out blow in the TV General Election debate.

The Tories described the prospect of a Labour government propped up by the votes of the Scottish nationalists as a “lethal cocktail” which would destabilise the country and undermine the economic recovery.

Labour leader Ed Milliband (left) and David Cameron at the ITV Leader's Debate. Picture: PA

Labour leader Ed Milliband (left) and David Cameron at the ITV Leader's Debate. Picture: PA

Labour hit back, demanding David Cameron rule out the “poisonous proposition” of a deal with Ukip which, the party claimed, would spell the end of the National Health Service in its current form.

In contrast, Nigel Farage and Nicola Sturgeon were swift to capitalise on what were generally seen to be strong performances in the seven-way leaders’ debate to insist that the main parties would need to deal with them in the event of another hung parliament.

The Ukip leader said Mr Cameron was “somebody we can sit down and talk to” after the election on the grounds that the Tories - unlike Labour - were committed to a referendum on Europe.

Ms Sturgeon, meanwhile, suggested the SNP could combine with Labour to “lock the Tories out of government”.

If Scots don’t want David Cameron, then they should think very carefully about voting for the SNP

Caroline Flint

“If the SNP’s a big force in Westminster, we can make sure that a Labour government doesn’t sell out on its values in the way that the last Labour government did,” she said.

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Conservative Chief Whip Michael Gove said it was clear that the SNP would pull Labour leader Ed Miliband “well to the left” if he was forced to rely on their votes in the Commons.

“I think that people appreciate that there would be an inherent instability in that arrangement,” he told Sky News.

“I don’t think that people would like the potential chaos that would ensue if you had Ed Miliband as prime minister having to make every decision with Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond auditing it to decide whether or not that decision was in the interests of Scotland and Scottish nationalism rather than the whole of the United Kingdom.

“If the country chooses to it could vote for a patchwork coalition ... I prefer to say a lethal cocktail of different parties which all have different objectives - there would be an automatic instability.”

For Labour, shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint accused the Conservatives of deliberately talking up the SNP because of the threat they posed to Mr Miliband’s chances in Scotland.

“They would love Nicola Sturgeon to do well because that puts David Cameron back in No 10,” she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“If Scots don’t want David Cameron, then they should think very carefully about voting for the SNP.

“We have made it very clear that we are not going to have a coalition with the SNP because we are fighting to win this election.”

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Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, meanwhile, insisted that the Conservatives would not work with Ukip after the election.

“We are not in the business of doing deals,” he told BBC News. “We are pointing out the dangers of going for a coalition.”

But after both Mr Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne had earlier refused to rule out a deal, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the Prime Minister needed to make a “formal statement” setting out his intentions.

“For 24 hours, a stream of Cabinet ministers have failed to rule out Ukip and the Tories doing a deal,” he said.

“The Tories and Ukip have a shared agenda to increase privatisation of the NHS. Together they would end healthcare as we know it.”

Liberal Democrat campaign chief Lord Ashdown said the inconclusive TV debate showed that, in an election race which looked unlikely to produce an overall winner, only the Lib Dems could provide stable coalition partners in a hung parliament.

“You have got three choices. You have got the SNP working with Labour determined to break up the country, you have got the mad, right-wing, far fringes of extremism of Mr Farage, or you have got a Nick Clegg,” he told the Today programme.

“If you accept the case there is going to be a coalition and no-one is going to govern by themselves, the choice between these three seems to me a no-brainer.”

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