Cameron vows new direction for Britain

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Prime Minister David Cameron vowed a "seismic shift" in the way Britain is governed Wednesday, unveiling a coalition deal that he said would launch an all out assault on the country's budget deficit.

A day after taking office in Britain's first power-sharing government since World War II, he said his Conservative party and its Liberal Democrat partners would take Britain in a "historic new direction."

The detailed joint policy programme included a pledge not to join the euro and confirmed plans for a fixed five-year term for British parliaments.

"We are announcing a new politics, a new politics where the national interest is more important than the party interest," he said in a joint press conference with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, his deputy premier.

"It can be a historic and seismic shift in our political leadership," he added. "Our liberal-conservative government will take Britain in a historic new direction."

The 43-year-old -- Britain's youngest prime minister for two centuries -- got down to work in Downing Street after striking a post-election deal with the Liberal Democrats late Tuesday.

Cameron, who has radically transformed the Conservatives from the Margaret Thatcher years, named Clegg and four other members of the centrist party as ministers.

Key points of the seven-page coalition accord included:

- that cutting the country's record deficit was "the most urgent issue" Britain faces.

- that "Britain will not join or prepare to join the euro in this parliament."

- "essential" reform to the banking system is to avoid a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis which it blamed on the last government.

New Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted the coalition agreement, forged in five days of talks after the inconclusive May 6 election produced the first hung parliament since 1974, would stand the test of time.

"I don't think it will be a weak coalition. It will be a strong government," said Hague, adding that the conflict in Afghanistan -- where Britain has around 10,000 troops -- would be his "most urgent priority."

New Finance Minister 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 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.

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

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had a 15-minute conversation with Cameron and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited him to make an "early" visit to Delhi, Downing Street said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is to hold talks with Cameron in a visit on June 18. Other leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel 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 -- including his respected finance chief Vince Cable as business secretary.

Key Conservative appointments included 38-year-old Osborne as finance minister, Hague as foreign minister, and Liam Fox as defence secretary.

Britain lived through five days of uncertainty after Thursday's general election.

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 both Cameron and Brown's party.

Clegg leads 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.


© 2010 AFP

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