Cameron compromised in British PM quest

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British Conservative leader David Cameron stands on the brink of finally becoming prime minister -- but any administration he leads will be compromised by his lack of a clear majority in parliament.

Cameron, whose party fell short of a majority in Thursday's general election, faces either being propped up by smaller parties, or risking it alone.

Bringing other parties on board would inevitably involve concessions on their programme for government, while a minority administration could be toppled at any time by the other parties.

It is a far cry from the way the Conservatives hoped to set about sorting out what they see as the huge social and economic troubles left by 13 years of Labour Party government.

Cameron, 43, has taken a statesmanlike, even prime ministerial approach to the setback, saying he must act in the national interest, even if it involves compromise.

"We have to work with what we have," he said in an email to supporters late Saturday.

"I want -- and I believe the country expects -- our two parties to work out how we can deliver strong and stable government to tackle Britain's big and urgent problems.

"Inevitably, these negotiations will involve compromise. But that's what working together in the national interest means.

"We've got to make sure that anything that results really is the best possible outcome for Britain.

"After all, that's what this party has always been about. That's what I'm about."

Making a bold offer to work with the Liberal Democrats could prove a masterstroke.

If it works, then the Conservatives will not shoulder alone any popular outcry at the deep public spending cuts which seem unavoidable to tackle its debts.

But it also makes it the Lib Dems' fault should a minority government fall at a moment when Britain needs a strong administration.

Nonetheless, the pitfalls of being a minority party in office would remain.

The situation is far from the outright victory the Conservatives were hoping for several months ago, when they had a double-digit lead over Labour, and five years ago, when Cameron became the party's leader with a promise to modernise it to make it fit for office again.

Cameron was educated at the elite Eton College, Princes William and Harry's old school, and Oxford University, where he was a member of rowdy student dining society the Bullingdon Club alongside Boris Johnson, now London's mayor.

His background -- he is also reportedly a descendant of king William IV -- has led to accusations that he is too privileged to understand the problems of ordinary Britons.

Cameron earned a top degree and got a job with the Conservative Party, where he rose to become an adviser to finance minister Norman Lamont.

Cameron left politics to spend seven years working as communications chief for media company Carlton but in 2001 won the safe parliament seat for Witney, near Oxford in southern England.

He swiftly rose to the top. The education spokesman became party leader in December 2005 after the Tories slumped to their third straight election defeat since 1997 at the hands of Tony Blair's Labour.

His first task as leader was to "detoxify" what one Tory frontbencher once labelled the "nasty party", seen as uncaring and out of touch.

His emphasis on environmentalism and fixing social problems in what he called "broken Britain" was among the clear breaks with the past.

He also managed to smooth over historic Tory splits on Europe, notably by pulling out of the main centre-right group in the European Parliament and allying with fringe parties.

Cameron has also used his own family to show voters the party has changed.

He was joined by his wife Samantha on the campaign trail and often talks about his disabled son Ivan, who died last year aged six, saying his experiences shaped his support for the state-run National Health Service.

© 2010 AFP

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