New British coalition holds 'constructive' first cabinet
New British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday chaired his first cabinet meeting, gathering former rivals together as he rebuffed suggestions that their historic coalition cannot last.
Deputy premier Nick Clegg and four other Liberal Democrat ministers met with their new Conservative colleagues in Downing Street, in what one Tory said was a "constructive" first attempt to work together.
Visiting the business and skills department afterwards, Cameron urged civil servants and his new ministers to start working on long-term solutions on how to reboot the economy, insisting the coalition was here to stay.
"The more I think about this endeavour on which we have embarked, the more excited I become because this coalition government, if we can make it work -- and I believe we can -- is a five-year government," Cameron said.
In a continuation of what the media have dubbed a "love-in" between the two sides, he praised Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable as an "absolute star."
Cable is part of a new team headed by finance minister George Osborne, a Conservative and close friend of Cameron's, that has the job of tackling Britain's record deficit and securing its recovery from a deep recession.
Osborne said the economy and the war in Afghanistan had dominated what he described as a "really constructive cabinet meeting" earlier, adding: "We are working incredibly well as a team."
The new government, Britain's first coalition since World War II, has made tackling the deficit a priority and an emergency budget is due within 50 days to outline how they will make billions of pounds of savings this year.
One of the first acts of the new cabinet was to agree a five percent pay cut for all ministers, a Downing Street spokeswoman said.
Cameron and Clegg stood side-by-side to present their vision for the future at a press conference Wednesday, where 43-year-old Cameron proclaimed a "historic and seismic shift" in British politics.
The clear chemistry between the men prompted newspaper commentators to compare them to a newly married couple, although like all honeymooners, they warned the ties may become strained as times get tough.
The Tories and the Lib Dems will have to learn to work together after years of being on opposing sides and after an often bitter campaign for the May 6 elections, which resulted in Britain's first hung parliament since 1974.
The Conservatives won the most seats but not the majority needed to oust Gordon Brown's Labour government, and spent five days in talks with the third-placed Lib Dems before they agreed a power-sharing deal.
Clegg and Cable are among five Lib Dems in senior cabinet posts, while the newly-appointed Conservative ministers include Osborne, former party leader William Hague as foreign secretary and veteran lawmaker Liam Fox in defence.
Cameron on Thursday handed middle-ranking ministerial positions to six Liberal Democrats, as he made 30 further appointments to the coalition.
Ministers have been publicly upbeat about their chances of surviving until the next election in 2015, although Lib Dem Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne acknowledged there had been "unpleasant" compromises.
"There are a whole series of compromises which have been struck in this agreement which I think are obviously unpleasant for each of the parties," he told BBC radio Thursday.
"But what we have in exchange is, I think, a real positive chance to reshape British politics and to make sure that the recovery keeps under way."
Foreign Secretary Hague has said the conflict in Afghanistan -- where Britain has about 10,000 troops -- would be his priority and the war dominated the first meeting of a new National Security Council late Wednesday.
Ahead of a first foreign trip to Washington on Friday for talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Hague said British forces would stay in Afghanistan until "their job is done."
US President Barack Obama has praised Cameron as a "smart, dedicated, effective" leader and invited him to visit in July.
While the new government got down to work, the Labour party, now in opposition for the first time since 1997, began the search for a new leader with former foreign secretary David Miliband leading the race so far.
© 2010 AFP