David Cameron named new UK prime minister after Brown resigns

The Conservative Party leader David Cameron swiftly moved into 10 Downing Street on Tuesday as the UK's first Conservative Party prime minister in 13 years. Gordon Brown steps down.

Simon Dawson/AP
Britain's new prime minister, David Cameron, with his wife, Samantha, waves outside 10 Downing Street in London on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's eleventh-hour bid to hold on to power ended Tuesday and he resigned, paving the way for Conservative Party leader David Cameron to lead the country.

Mr. Brown's resignation ended days of political uncertainty following the May 6 British election that the Tories won, but without an absolute majority. In recent days Brown had sought an alliance with the third placed Liberal Democrats to remain at 10 Downing St., despite an election that handed Labour its worst drubbing in almost 70 years

Instead, centrist Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg opted to align with Cameron's Conservatives, and both parties announced the formation of Britain’s first coalition government since the end of World War II, ending 13 years of power for Labour. Shortly after Brown's resignation, Mr. Cameron trekked to Buckingham Palace to receive Queen Elizabeth II's blessing to form a government.

"I aim to form a proper and real coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats," Prime Minister Cameron said on the steps of 10 Downing Street, his new home. "I believe that is the best way to get the strong government that we need, the decisive government that we need, today."

Brown was apparently dissuaded in his quest to find the votes to remain prime minister from some members of his own party. "I think from the point of view of the Labour Party if we appear to not be accepting the decision of the electorate – the biggest loss in our history apart from 1931 – and I think if we now decide that we're just going to [ignore] the electorate, or look that way, that the electorate will wreak vengeance upon us," former Home Secretary John Reid told reporters before Brown resigned.

But Conservative-Liberal coalition may itself not last any longer than a few months if the two parties policy differences widen. Historically, British coalitions have been short-lived.

Prime Minister Cameron

A career politician from an upper class background who moved the Conservative Party to the center, Cameron is the 19th graduate of the elite British boarding school Eton to become prime minister, and the first Conservative to occupy 10 Downing since John Major departed in 1997.

Following days of negotiations between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, public impatience with a government in limbo since May 6 had started to show.

The biggest challenge facing the new government is how it will tackle the UK’s deficit, which the European Commission has forecast will be the biggest in the bloc by the end of the year.

During the election campaign, the two parties had been at loggerheads on how soon the cuts should begin – with the Tories wanting an emergency austerity budget within weeks of taking power and the Liberal Democrats advocating a one-year moratorium on cuts in order not to jeopardize Britain’s fragile recovery.

However, many observers have emphasized how close the two parties are on the issue.

Two parties close on key issues

“All three of the main parties do not differ anything like they would pretend to on the issue of public spending,” said Mark Littlewood, a former Liberal Democrat official who now heads the Institute of Economic Affairs. “The actual figures that they have been discussing are actually utterly trivial in the context of Britain’s debt soaring through the one trillion mark. There are difference of nuance and no one has actually grappled yet with the scale of the cuts that will be necessary but I doubt that there would be substantial grounds which would be impossible to overcome."

The Conservatives support a greater role for communities and individuals in place of the state, specifically advocating the creation of parent-organized charter schools, a position close to the beliefs of many Liberal Democrats.

“I can’t see the Liberals having an ideological objection on Tory ideas of encouraging more voluntary associations of one sort or another,” says Lawrence Black, who teaches modern British political and cultural history at Durham University. “They resonate pretty closely with many ideas of liberalism.”

But Conservative plans to increase the threshold for inheritance taxes and to recognize marriage within the tax system have been put on hold.

Areas where the two parties could bump heads over going forward include immigration and greater European integration. The Liberals have argued for the introduction of "earned citizenship" for illegal immigrants who have been in the UK for a certain period of time, something the Tories oppose. They have also doggedly opposed Tory plans to introduce immigration quotas, pointing out they wouldn't stop EU citizens from coming to work in the country.But without major EU treaties or actions looming, Clegg and Cameron may be able to ignore their EU differences for a time.

“There is a monumental divide between the Liberals and the Tories (over Europe) but in the present circumstances - in which there is not likely to be any proposed fundamental change with Britain’s relationship with the EU, either withdrawal or further integration - the substantial differences that exist do not need to hamper a Conservative-Liberal government,” said Mr. Littlewood.

Despite the common ground, the history of British coalition arrangements in suggests that cracks will inevitably emerge.

“Most previous minority or coaliton governments in Britain through the 20th century have been pretty short lived, many of them less than a year,” said Dr. Black. “Normally what it results in is short term deals - but ultimately an election.”


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