LONDON — British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a dramatic bid to keep his beleaguered Labor Party in power after it was punished in elections last week, announcing he will resign by September at the latest even if the Liberal Democrats — being wooed by the Conservatives — decide to join his party in government.
The political theater, played out in front of the iconic black door of No. 10 Downing Street, comes as David Cameron's Conservatives — which won the most seats in Parliament but fell short of a majority — struggled to win over the third-place Liberal Democrats.
Brown's party has been willing to entertain supporting the Liberal Democrats' demand for an overhaul of the voting system toward proportional representation, which would greatly increase that party's future seat tallies. But the evening brought a further twist with a counteroffer from the Conservatives — a referendum on a less dramatic type of electoral reform.
Brown, looking statesmanlike but resigned to political reality, accepted blame for Labor's loss of 91 seats and its failure to win a parliamentary majority.
No other party won outright either, resulting in the first "hung Parliament" since 1974 and triggering a frantic scramble between Brown's Labor and the main opposition Conservatives to broker a coalition — or at least an informal partnership — with the Liberal Democrats.
"As leader of my party, I must accept that that is a judgment on me," said Brown, 59, the Treasury chief who waited a decade in the wings for his chance to become prime minister.
Brown said Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg had asked to begin formal coalition talks with the Labor Party and said he believed their parties might form a center-left alliance. Clegg had previously suggested Brown's departure would likely be a condition of any deal with Labor.
The Liberal Democrats have seemed genuinely open to a deal with the Conservatives — who are less ideologically compatible with Clegg's party than Labor is — largely out of a sense that Cameron won a moral mandate and supporting him was expected by the nation at a time of economic turmoil.
But Brown's statement appeared to give Clegg's party a viable alternative, and real temptation: join a possibly short-lived alliance, remove the unpopular Brown and pass electoral reform that could transform their fortunes and even banish the Conservatives to the political wilderness for many years.
Clegg held late night talks with his party's lawmakers to discuss their next move. "We will try to make everything as clear as possible as soon as possible," he said.
His party plans a new round of negotiations today with Brown's Labor.