British coalition defends record on low-key birthday
Britain's coalition government defended its record after a turbulent first year in power Wednesday as fresh protests against its austerity measures kept anniversary celebrations on ice.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron's office said the coalition with the Liberal Democrats -- Britain's first joint administration since World War II -- had taken the "right decisions" in the national interest.
But with Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg vowing a more "muscular" role after the party's recent electoral meltdown and with the coalition at record lows in the polls, it remained a difficult birthday.
At least 1,000 disabled people meanwhile rallied in London, the latest in a series of protests against spending cuts that the coalition says are needed to reduce Britain's record deficit.
The centre-right Conservatives and their centrist junior coalition partners agreed one year ago to form a government after elections booted out the previous Labour government but produced a hung parliament.
When Cameron and Clegg gave their first press conference last year in the rose garden of 10 Downing Street, the pair were jokingly compared to newlyweds because of their bonhomie.
But tensions boiled over into a war of words this month during a bitter campaign for a referendum on reforming Britain's voting system, which the Lib Dems backed and lost badly.
The Lib Dems also suffered their worst ever results in local elections but Clegg insisted the government, the first in which Liberals have taken part since David Lloyd George in 1922, was a "coalition of necessity".
Clegg insisted however the Lib Dems would make their influence more visible -- echoing comments at the weekend in which he said they could block the coalition's proposed healthcare reforms.
"You will see a strong liberal identity in a strong coalition government. You might even call it muscular liberalism," he said in a speech.
Clegg sat grimly alongside Cameron in the House of Commons for the weekly prime minister's questions session on Wednesday as the premier defended the coalition's record on healthcare.
In a separate speech, Finance Minister George Osborne said the two parties were "as united... as we have ever been" behind the austerity measures.
"We have the interest rates of Germany despite having a bigger budget deficit than Greece or Portugal," he said.
The Downing Street statement said the coalition had completed a quarter of the commitments in its five-year coalition agreement, which called for billions of pounds of spending cuts across government departments.
"The government believes the right decisions have been taken in the national interest. But there is a lot more work to be done," it said.
But as it was issued, hundreds of demonstrators including people in wheelchairs and blind people with dogs rallied outside parliament to oppose welfare cuts.
"I'm incredibly angry," said Penny Pepper, a demonstrator who was in a wheelchair. "It's utter nonsense, the bankers are bailed out and we're sold out, at the expense of greedy bankers."
Several protests against a hike in university fees turned violent late last year and there was also chaos on the sidelines of a protest by unions in March.
Public support for the coalition appears to be dipping.
A ComRes/ITV News poll showed 53 percent of Britons say the coalition's record is disappointing and 49 percent say the coalition is "bad for Britain". That figure has steadily increased from 33 percent in November.
The poll also reveals overwhelmingly negative opinions of Clegg, with 82 percent saying they do not or do not know whether to trust him and only 24 percent saying he is a good leader for his party.
Cameron was not trusted by 48 percent of those surveyed. Only 28 percent of people thought the coalition could see out its full five-year term to 2015, according to the poll of 2,005 adults between May 6 and 8.
© 2011 AFP