Wednesday, May 12, 2010

UK in the shadow of Blair: Tories and Lib Dems join together.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy PM Nick Clegg, leaders of the Conservative (Tory) and Liberal Democratic (Lib Dem) parties respectively, today held their first joint press conference as leaders of Britain’s new government. It’s all very historic. The UK last had a coalition government 65 years ago, and Cameron is Britain’s youngest prime minister in 198 years. Cameron and Clegg said they had considered a Tory minority government that might have lasted months, but opted instead for a coalition that by law, will be set to endure for five years.

And why not? They have a seven-page document outlining their common agreement, the Lib Dems, with five cabinet seats, are in government for the first time, able to show they can help run the country, the Tories are back in power for a planned five years, the coalition’s combined total of 363 seats out of 649 (56%) is a solid majority, built on 17.5 million votes, 59% of the total votes cast last Thursday, and what is politics anyway, but the art of building and sustaining coalitions, whether within a party or across party lines?

Cameron took a big step toward making coalition with the Lib Dems possible by endorsing a referendum on alternative voting, which allows second and third choice votes to re-allocate to surviving candidates as each candidate with the lowest vote is eliminated, until one finally reaches 50%. It’s the voting system in Australia. Lib Dems, as we noted, put a high priority on electoral reform that helps smaller parties. Cameron’s pledge on alternative voting, combined with the failure of Labour in negotiations with the Lib Dems to stand behind their leader Gordon Brown’s pledge for a referendum on proportional representation, really set the direction toward a workable Tory-Lib Dem coalition.

The UK faces huge challenges. Today, at the dawn of a new government with a common platform offering reform and with both parties sharing power, one can be optimistic about the coalition’s ability to meet some of those challenges. And while the parties don’t share cultures and differ over many objectives, on the key issue of the economy, Dominic Lawson of the London Independent reported that two years ago, Clegg:
told me that "the Conservatives and Lib Dems see much more clearly than Labour that the great sea-change in British politics is that the experiment in big government has failed, it hasn't delivered the more socially mobile, socially just, society that it purported to and in any event can't be sustained financially in the way it has over the past few years". He added that he favoured "an aggressive tax-cutting approach". [Earlier,] Clegg had called for the "closing down" of the "industrial welfare state" and he has long advocated plans for market-based reforms of the public services.

The coalition might indeed work out.

Clegg, like Cameron, is just 43, the product of a top school (Cambridge; Cameron went to Oxford), sharp and articulate. Together, they form the response to Labour’s 13 year rule, which began in 1997 under its then 43 year-old, dynamic, articulate Oxford-educated architect of “New Labour”—Tony Blair. It seems that the right response to “New Labour’s” aging over time was most certainly not “old Labourite” Gordon Brown (who replaced Blair three years ago), and also not David Cameron or Nick Clegg alone, but it just might be Cameron and Clegg the team, working together.

The articulate, Harvard-educated John F. Kennedy was, by the way, only 43 when he began his presidency that in the early 1960s reshaped U.S. politics.

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