The Conservative Party of the United Kingdom has finally replaced the centre-left Labour Party, albeit with the help of Nick Clegg’s centre-left Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems). Unlike many governments around the world, including here in Canada, the United Kingdom has no recent experience with minority governments.
The usual situation there is for the prime minister of the day to operate with a majority of seats in Parliament, ruling with few restraints on his power to implement whatever policies he wants. For the first time since 1945, a British prime minister has been be forced to set aside ideological differences and form a coalition government. According to new prime minister, David Cameron:
“We have a shared agenda [with the Lib Dems] and a shared resolve to tackle the challenges our country faces, to safeguard our national security and support our troops abroad, to tackle the debt crisis, to repair our broken political system and to build a stronger society.”
Cameron gave his first news conference while standing alongside the leader of the Lib Dems, Nick Clegg, the new deputy prime minister. Many see Clegg as a king maker and I suppose he is, but not in any positive sense for his party, which actually lost votes and seats in the election, despite predictions he would do very well.
Key appointments include former Conservative deputy leader William Hague as the new foreign secretary and ex-finance minister Ken Clarke running the justice department. As well, Conservative Theresa May will be interior minister and Conservative Liam Fox will be defence secretary. Lib Dem Vince Cable, a former economist, is the new business secretary, while fellow Lib Dem David Laws will take up the post of chief secretary to the treasury.
Apparently, however, the Lib Dems paid dearly for their new-found status as a formal part of the ruling coalition.
Clegg has reportedly been forced to agree to back the Conservatives’ plan to begin immediate spending cuts. And Clegg has long been pro-European, but Tories are skeptical over co-operation in Europe, and recent developments with the so-called “Pigs” countries have hardly been encouraging.
Reports are that, for the sake of the coalition, Clegg agreed to abandon plans to make Britain more closely engaged in the European Union, while also agreeing to a Conservative plan to hold a referendum on any further EU powers. This must have been a bitter pill for Clegg, who was once a member of the European parliament, to swallow.
And, apparently, any hope Clegg had of the new government joining the euro currency has been dashed—the Conservatives oppose the move. The Lib Dems still want to, when the economic conditions are right, but Clegg says now is not the right time.