Page last updated at 17:19 GMT, Friday, 7 May 2010 18:19 UK

Election 2010: The price of a place in government

By Sean Curran
Political correspondent, BBC News

Nick Clegg
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was "disappointed" with his party's results

Liberal Democrat hearts will have skipped a beat as they listened to David Cameron make his "big, open and comprehensive" offer to join him in government.

They must have thought Christmas had come early when the Conservative leader promised to implement policies from the Lib Dem manifesto.

Strip away the wrapping paper and it turns out that the biggest box is empty.

In spite of all the warm words, Mr Cameron didn't offer electoral reform.

Even before Cleggmania took the nation - or at least the media - in its grip, the Liberal Democrats' leader was being asked what he would do if no political party won an outright majority.

Nick Clegg said he thought the party which won the most seats and votes was entitled to try to form a government.

On Friday he stuck to his guns and announced that it was "for the Conservative Party to prove that it is capable of seeking to govern in the national interest".

In other words, Mr Clegg was inviting Mr Cameron to make him an offer he couldn't refuse.

'Business as usual'

So where does this leave Gordon Brown? Well, still in 10 Downing Street.

The prime minister has made it clear that he has no plans to resign.

He is sticking to the letter of Britain's unwritten constitution.

Speaking in Downing Street, he struck a "business-as-usual" tone as he tried to woo Mr Clegg with warm words about the "common ground" between Labour and the Liberal Democrats on the economy and voting reform.

David Cameron
The Conservatives had the most seats but did not achieve a majority

Mr Brown is no hurry to leave No 10 and says he ''understands and respects'' that the Liberal Democrat leader wants to speak to Mr Cameron about a possible coalition.

If those talks fail, Mr Brown will be knocking on the Lib Dems' door armed with flowers, chocolates and the promise of a referendum on a "fairer voting system".

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have now begun talks.

Mr Cameron has been keen to highlight areas where the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats agree on policy.

But he has also gone to great lengths to reassure the Tory faithful, telling them: "I want to make it clear that I do not believe any government should give more powers to the European Union.

"I do not believe that any government can be weak or soft on the issue of immigration, which needs to be controlled properly.

"And the country's defences must be kept strong."

That effectively ensured that some of the Lib Dems' most controversial policies have been ruled out of the conversation.

Serious differences

On electoral reform, the Conservative leader offered a committee of inquiry.

That falls far short of what the Liberal Democrats want.

They haven't forgotten that Tony Blair set up the Jenkins Commission to look at ways of changing the voting system.

Its report has been gathering dust for years.

There is some common ground, however.

Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown remains prime minister as no party achieved a majority

Both parties want to scrap plans for identity cards.

Mr Cameron pointed out that both the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat manifestos contained a promise to bring in a "pupil premium" in England, to help to reduce the gap between rich and poor children.

The Tory leader also raised tax policy and talked about not pressing ahead with the planned increase in National Insurance.

But this is an area where there are some serious differences.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto talks about introducing a so-called "mansion tax" on properties worth more than £2 million.

It promises that nobody will have to pay income tax on the first £10,000 they earn.

Mr Cameron would only say he was willing to give this "a much higher priority" and to "work together to determine how it can be afforded".

The results are now in. The nation has spoken. Now it's time for the politicians to start talking.

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