/ 14 May 2010

Cameron says UK coalition will defy doubters

Britain’s ruling coalition partners have a “common agenda” to rebuild the economy and will not be distracted by critics who say the alliance has no chance of lasting, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday.

Cameron, who took power this week after 13 years of Labour rule, said he would be able to maintain his power-sharing deal with the smaller Liberal Democrats despite the pressing need for public spending cuts and tax rises.

Political rivals, analysts and even some within Cameron’s own centre-right party have raised concerns the two sides’ political views are too far apart for the coalition to succeed.

But Cameron, who travels on Friday to Scotland where his party has only a single lawmaker, said his alliance with the centre-left Liberal Democrats would grow in strength during its scheduled five-year term.

“Of course there will be sceptics and doubters but I believe we can make this work,” he told the Sun newspaper. “There is a common agenda we want to pursue.”

Unlike many other European countries, Britain is not used to coalition governments — this is its first since 1945 — and the divisions between the main parties are deep and historic.

‘False dawn’
A former Conservative deputy prime minister, Michael Heseltine, predicted the inevitable spending cuts would cause “terrible strains” in the coalition.

“We are living in a false dawn,” he was reported as saying in the Independent newspaper. “The sun is shining. It is not going to last very long … there is a rocky road ahead.”

The first signs of dissent surfaced over the coalition’s proposals to change the way Parliament can vote to remove a government if it proves unpopular during its five-year term.

Under the plan, Britain would have fixed-term Parliaments, ending the prime minister’s right to decide the timing of an election. Any vote on dissolving a Parliament mid-term would need the support of at least 55% of lawmakers.

Critics say the change is unconstitutional and would give the coalition too strong a grip on power as it has 56% of the seats in parliament.

The number of lawmakers opposed to the plan was unclear, but those who went public said they wanted any vote to be decided by a simple majority.

“This is nothing less than a stitch-up,” former interior minister David Blunkett told the Guardian. “It’d be impossible, even if every opposition MP united against this coalition, for the [lower] house to express its lack of confidence in it.”

The coalition’s most pressing task is to cut a record budget deficit running at more than 11% of GDP.

Britain has emerged from the worst recession since World War II but the new government is under pressure to reduce public spending and raise taxes to balance the books.

“We have to take difficult decisions,” Cameron said. “This is going to be a difficult year in terms of public spending.”

His finance minister, George Osborne, is expected to set out government tax and spending plans in an emergency budget in the next few weeks. — Reuters