Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Conservatives form coalition with Lib Dems

The news emerged slowly last night and even by midnight the details were not completely clear, but after days of negotiations the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats have finally struck a deal and formed a coalition government. Yesterday could be described as a frenetic day in politics. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, left his house and was surrounded by a throng of media. David Cameron was greeted with similar scenes as he too left for London, but both could only say they were hopeful a deal could be struck. The Lib Dems had not only talked to the Conservatives however. The party had conducted clandestine talks over the weekend with the Labour party and were accused of two-timing by some Tories. By midday yesterday yesterday it began to emerge that no deal had been worked out with Labour and it seemed the only hope of forming a coalition was between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

A huge throng of journalists and protesters had gathered at the Cabinet Office in Whitehall by the time the negotiating teams arrived at 2 pm. But they had a long wait before anyone emerged. It was just past 7:30 pm when Shadow foreign secretary William Hague left the building and spoke to reporters. He said the meeting with the Lib Dems had a "very positive atmosphere" and the negotiating team had "some recommendations to take back to David Cameron and our parliamentary colleagues". 

But still it remained only speculation that a deal had been forged. Only 10 minutes earlier Gordon Brown left Downing Street and announced he would step down as prime minister with immediate effect. "I wish the next prime minister well as he makes the important choices for the future. Only those who have held the office of prime minister can understand the full weight of its responsibilities and its great capacity for good. I have been privileged to learn much about the very best in human nature and a fair amount too about its frailties - including my own." He then headed for Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen and inform her of his standing down. Shortly after he went to Labour HQ, where he was expected to announce his plans to stand down as an MP, which would force a by-election in his Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath seat. However, despite much speculation, Brown will retain his seat.

David Cameron also headed for the palace to become the youngest prime minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812. As he departed from the palace crowds outside cheered as the car made its way to Downing Street where aides and advisers were waiting to greet him and celebrate the beginning of the first Conservative government for 13 years.

Speaking on the steps of Number 10 Cameron says the UK's best days lie ahead. He adds that he wants to rebuild trust in politics and promises to be "honest about what government can achieve". Talks between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems had brought around a "proper and full coalition" he said, and he pledged to build a more "responsible society".

Details of the deal were still not clear by midnight, though Downing Street did confirm Nick Clegg had been given the post of deputy prime minister. Other confirmed posts are William Hague as foreign secretary, Liam Fox as defence secretary and Andrew Lansley as health secretary. Lib Dem Danny Alexander is to become Scottish secretary, and the Lib Dems are expected to receive about 20 government jobs in total.

As midnight struck only a few details had emerged as to what might come from the deal between to two parties. The Lib Dems agreed to an emergency budget within 50 days and to a Tory budget reduction plan including £6 billion in cuts to non-frontline services in 2010/11. The two sides also agreed a commitment to a replacement for the Trident nuclear missile system but the programme will be scrutinised for value for money. The Lib Dems have agreed to a cap on immigration and a commitment not to join the euro for the lifetime of the parliament. No details on electoral reform were immediately forthcoming and further statements are expected later on Wednesday.

Meanwhile David Cameron was settling into his new home and receiving congratulatory phone calls. US President Barack Obama was the first international leader to call him. During his phone call, Obama congratulated David Cameron "for the successful campaign that he ran, and for becoming the new British prime minister". In a statement he said, "I reiterated my deep and personal commitment to the special relationship between our two countries - a bond that has endured for generations and across party lines, and that is essential to the security and prosperity of our two countries, and the world." Obama also praised Gordon Brown's "strong leadership during challenging times".

David Cameron also faces some challenging times ahead. Britain has an increasing deficit exceeding £600 billion. And even as the country emerges from a deep recession, financial problems in Europe will not make the next few years an easy ride. But Cameron was confident for the future and said the "coalition will throw up all sorts of difficulties but I believe that together we can provide that strong and stable government that our country needs." But he acknowledged it was "going to be hard and difficult work." [BBC / Sky]

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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