Can David Cameron keep new UK coalition government together?
New UK Prime Minister David Cameron came to power Tuesday on the back of Britain's first coalition government since World War II. Historically, British coalitions have worked best in times of crisis and with looming budget cuts. Cameron and junior partner Nick Clegg are vowing to stick together for years to come.
Facing the challenge of cutting Britain’s towering deficit, the UK’s first coalition government since World War II began the work of ruling the country today as Britons wondered: ‘how long will it last?’Skip to next paragraph
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Days of hard bargaining since last Thursday’s inconclusive election produced a pact between the centrist Liberal Democrats and the larger Conservative Party in which both sides made sacrifices, paving the way for David Cameron to become the first Tory prime minister since 1997.
But while the two partners make unlikely political bedfellows in many policy areas – immigration and European integration are two key differences – what may keep the coalition together for years to come is a joint desire to only face the voting public again after the pain has subsided from efforts to tackle Britain's ballooning debt. This year's budget deficit is projected at £163 billion ($240 billion), worth about 11 percent of the UK's gross domestic product.
“I think that either side, and the Liberal Democrats in particular, will want to hold on to power for as long as possible,” says Martin Laffin, professor of Public Policy and Management at the University of Durham’s business school. “That’s because as the popularity of the government plummets, the last thing they will want is to be exposed to an electorate. When the economic upturn comes they can say: look what we achieved.”
"This is a government that will last," LibDem party leader Nick Clegg said after his first press conference with Prime Minister Cameron.
If divisions do not emerge, it is likely to last five years on the basis of plans by the coalition to create fixed-term parliaments, meaning that next general election would not take place until May 2015.
Some observers have expressed surprise at the concessions the junior coalition partner appears to have extracted from the Conservatives. Among other things, the Conservatives agreed to hold a referendum on the Liberal’s much cherished dream of reforming Britain’s electoral system. The Liberals believe a shift to proportional representation system from the UK's current winner-takes-all electoral districts will give them a stronger voice in government. In the general election, the party won 23 percent of the national vote, but just under 9 percent of the seats in parliament.
Other concessions reportedly include plans to transform parliament’s House of Lords into a second chamber elected nationally using the proportional representation system of voting, as well as measures to increase the income tax threshold to £10,000.
A significant number of Liberal Democrats are also expected to take seats at the cabinet table. Mr. Clegg will become deputy prime minister, while a role overseeing the reform of the banking system is to be given to Vince Cable, an economist whose popularity rose after being credited for warning of the global economic crisis.