Cameron's historic coalition starts work

12th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

New British Prime Minister David Cameron began Wednesday unveiling details of his new historic centre-right coalition government, after finally ending 13 years of Labour rule.

The 43-year-old Cameron -- Britain's youngest prime minister for two centuries -- took office after striking a deal with the third-placed Liberal Democrats late Tuesday.

Cameron, who has radically transformed his Conservative party from the Margaret Thatcher years to prepare it for power, shook hands with Lib Dem head Nick Clegg on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street before getting down to work.

New Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted the coalition agreement, forged in five days of political deadlock after an inconclusive election, would stand the test of time.

"I dont think it will be a weak coalition. It will be a strong government," said Hague. New Chancellor George Osborne added: "Now's the time to roll up the sleeves, and get Britain working."

London's stock market and the pound recovered after a jittery few days ended with Tuesday's coalition deal.

"Markets had feared a negative start, but as the dawn of a new political era takes place, there appears to be a collective sigh of relief that we have a clearer way forward," ODL Securities trader Owen Ireland said.

Cameron's appointment by Queen Elizabeth II late Tuesday came after Labour leader Gordon Brown finally admitted defeat.

Cameron acknowleged the huge challenges facing him, not least Britain's fragile recovery from the global economic crisis.

"This is going to be hard and difficult work. A coalition will throw up all sorts of challenges," he said in a speech in Downing Street, flanked by his pregnant wife Samantha.

President Barack Obama called Cameron within minutes of his appointment, inviting him to visit the United States in July, Downing Street said.

Other world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also quickly called Cameron to congratulate him.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said Cameron's government would face "difficult choices in difficult times", while Russia said it hoped for a "new impulse" in chilly relations.

Clegg was joined by four other Lib Dem ministers in Cameron's coalition government, after backing the deal to form Britain's first coalition government since World War II.

"We are going to form a new kind of government," Clegg told his lawmakers, adding he hoped it marked "the start of the new politics I have always believed in."

Key Conservative appointments included 38-year-old Osborne as finance minister -- facing daunting economic challenges including a eurozone crisis -- and Hague as foreign minister.

Britain lived through five days of uncertainty after Thursday's general election produced no clear winner for the first time since 1974.

The Conservatives won 306 seats in the 650-member House of Commons -- 20 short of a clear majority of 326 -- followed by Labour on 258 and the Lib Dems on 57. The Lib Dems held talks with Cameron and Brown's party.

Clegg is leading a Liberal party into British government for the first time since David Lloyd George left power in 1922.

Critics say the deal between the centre-right Conservatives and centrist Lib Dems is an unlikely alliance, since they have strongly differing views on a number of issues.

But between them, they have enough to secure a majority in the House of Commons which Labour and the Lib Dems, seen as more natural bedfellows, did not.

There were already doubts about the political union Wednesday, however, with the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph newspaper warning it would be "unsatisfactory and short-lived."

"Even as they applauded the statesmanship of their leaders, there were voices in both parties predicting the marriage would not last," added the Financial Times.

Brown wished Cameron well as he left office Tuesday, while acknowledging the personal weaknesses -- such as poor presentational skills and impatience -- which hampered his three-year premiership.

His Labour party's deputy leader Harriet Harman will act as caretaker leader while a leadership campaign takes place, which is expected to conclude by September.


© 2010 AFP

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