After five days of intense negotiations, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats finally put in place yesterday a coalition government, the first in the last 70 years, which will consist of at least five ministers from Liberal Democrats, the smaller partner.
Conservative Party leader David Cameron on Tuesday evening formally took charge as the 52nd Prime Minister of the UK with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg as his deputy.
Late Tuesday evening, standing outside 10 Downing Street, Cameron, 43, delivered his first speech as Prime Minister and said: “In terms of the future, our country has a hung parliament where no party has an overall majority and we have some deep and pressing problems — a huge deficit, deep social problems, a political system in need of reform. For those reasons, I aim to form a proper and full coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.”
His speech did not even remotely resemble the rhetoric witnessed in the run-up to the elections, but was one that was sober and in parts even grave.
Despite the intense rivalry with his predecessor, Cameron started his speech by paying rich tribute to Gordon Brown, who had only a few minutes earlier stepped down as Prime Minister. “Compared with a decade ago, this country is more open at home and more compassionate abroad and that is something we should all be grateful for and on behalf of the whole country. I’d like to pay tribute to the outgoing prime minister for his long record of dedicated public service,” Cameron said.
At 43, Cameron is also the youngest prime minister since Robert Banks Jenkinson, the 2nd Earl of Liverpool in 1812. He is six months younger than Tony Blair when he had become the prime minister in 1997.
Until noon on Tuesday, the situation continued to remain precarious, with Liberal Democrats resuming talks with Labour. However, by the same evening, order was restored when Brown tendered his resignation to the Queen, recommending that Cameron be invited to form the new government. With this, the 13-year-old Labour tenure came to an end.
In the new government, the top two cabinet posts will be held by members of the majority partner (Tory) with William Hague as foreign secretary and George Osborne as Chancellor (finance minister). Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat’s financial wizard, who for sometime was expected to grab the Chancellor’s job, had to content with a position of the man in charge of business and banking, which is a slightly modified version of what his predecessor Peter Mandelson had held. Cable became famous with his book “The Storm” that vividly explains the last economic crisis and often credited with the man who predicted the financial meltdown way back in 2003.
Liam Fox and Andrew Lansley from the Tory side have also managed to grab two other important cabinet positions of defence and health, while Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne will be cabinet member in charge of energy and climate change. More announcements on the new cabinet are expected to follow soon.
Probably as a gesture of his confidence that the new coalition government will survive its five-year term, Cameron’s first official announcement was that the next general election would be held on the first Thursday of May 2015. His optimism was, however, played down by several Labour leaders who do not expect the new government to live beyond 18 months. The sceptics in the Labour Party were in fact joined by a handful of MPs from both the Tories and Liberal Democrat as well, who from the beginning had opposed the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition.
In the coming weeks and months, the two coalition partners will have to iron out their differences on several key issues including government spending, political and electoral reforms and the UK’s policies towards Europe. Cameron and his supporters have been projected as strong Eurosceptics, a position that is unlikely to go down well with their new coalition partners.