SNP hails Cameron hint over election deadlock

DAVID Cameron has revived SNP hopes of wielding more power at Westminster by admitting that a hung parliament would be better for the UK than another five years of a Labour government.

The Conservative leader insisted yesterday he hoped to win an outright victory in next year's general election, but claimed that any outcome other than a victory for Gordon Brown would be good for Britain.

Mr Cameron's comments came after an Ipsos MORI poll put the Tories just six points ahead of Labour, which would make next year's election the closest for more than three decades.

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Pressed on the likelihood of a hung parliament, Mr Cameron said: "I think, frankly, anything is better than another five years of this Labour government.

"I've never believed the next election is either a shoo-in or a foregone conclusion.

"I think the state of the nation's opinion is that people are disillusioned with Labour, with the government; they are disillusioned also with politics, but they are not going to just hand it over to the Conservatives."

The SNP seized on Mr Cameron's remarks last night, maintaining that a hung parliament would be "full of opportunities" for Scotland.

A spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond said no party winning an outright majority at Westminster would help the SNP to achieve "the best possible result for Scotland", as the party set about offering up its Westminster votes to win concessions from the UK government.

The comments from the SNP echo claims by Mr Salmond, who last month said that, should his party return 20 MPs to the Commons, the parliament would be "hung by a Scottish rope", allowing the Nationalists to strike deals with the largest UK party.

"(A hung parliament] is our favoured outcome," his spokesman said last night. "It maximises Scotland's voice on a case-by-case, day-by-day basis to get the best possible outcome for Scotland. In terms of, for example, the fossil fuel levy – 170 million is tied up in an account in London – this would be about securing access to that, and getting a fair deal on things such as Barnett consequentials for the Olympics in London. It is full of opportunities."

His call was echoed by the SNP's Westminster group whip, Stewart Hosie, who said: "Whether the next UK government is Labour or Tory, the best result for Scotland will be a balanced or hung Westminster parliament – a minority government, with a Scottish block of 20 SNP MPs fighting for and winning key objectives for Scotland."

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Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg gave his clearest indication yet that, in the event of a hung parliament, he would seek to deal with the party with the largest number of seats, an admission that appears to strike down prior suggestions that he might try to enter a pact with the Labour Party to keep the Tories from power.

A Populus poll earlier this month put the Tory share of the vote at 39 per cent to Labour's 29 and the Liberal Democrats on 18.

A six-point gap in the election would leave Mr Cameron's party with 296 seats – 30 short of an overall majority.

Mr Clegg, whose party stood at 17 per cent in the latest poll, said it was inevitable that the party with the largest vote share should try to form a government.

"I think it is an inevitable fact, it is just stating the obvious – the party which has got the strongest mandate from the British people will have the first right to seek to govern," Mr Clegg said.

He went on: "I start from a very simple first principle – it is not Gordon Brown or David Cameron or Nick Clegg who are kingmakers in British politics – it's the British people. So the votes of the British people are what should determine what happens afterwards.

"Whichever party have the strongest mandate from the British people, it seems to me obvious in a democracy they have the first right to seek to try and govern, either on their own or with others."

The gap revealed by Ipsos MORI yesterday is the narrowest between the two parties for almost a year and seems founded on creeping optimism on the state of the economy in the UK.

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Some 43 per cent said they believed the economy would perform better over the coming year, compared with 23 per cent who said it would deteriorate and 28 per cent who believed it would stay the same.

The Work and Pensions Secretary, Yvette Cooper, said the results indicated that the public were "getting nervous" about the prospect of a Tory government.

She said: "We are seeing the economy strengthening now, and I think people do have a sense of real unease that we should risk that recovery with the Conservatives."

Despite the improvement in Labour's position, the Prime Minister's personal ratings remained poor.

Only 34 per cent indicated satisfaction with his performance, while 59 per cent said they were dissatisfied.

Mr Cameron, however, registered a 48 per cent satisfaction rating, with only 35 per cent professing dissatisfaction with his efforts.

The prospect of a hung parliament was greeted with dismay by Roy Hattersley, a member of the last Labour cabinet that had to deal with the situation.

He warned: "After the next election, the largest party and the Lib Dems combined may not command an overall Commons majority.

"Then there will be squalid day-to-day horse trading."