A sound start

A few days of deal-making after an unclear electoral verdict in Britain produced a government whose contours were unthinkable even a few weeks ago. The new government of Conservative Party leader David Cameron with Liberal Democratic Party’s Nick Clegg as his deputy has many firsts to its credit. It is the first-ever coalition between the two parties, and the first to come to power in the past 65 years. Cameron is the youngest prime minister in two centuries. The two parties are not natural partners. They differ on almost every issue and had spent much venom on each other during the campaign. But both parties rose to the need of the moment and produced a compromise. The Lib Dems could not have aligned with Labour, because the election was, more than anything else, a vote against Labour. A minority Conservative government would have been unstable and might have accentuated Britain’s current economic problems.

A British equivalent of a common minimum programme has been evolved and it covers even the most contentious issues of discord between the two parties. The Tories have agreed to hold a referendum on an alternative voting system  in response to the Lib Dem demand for proportional representation. Policies on European Union and immigration have seen a compromise. The most important was the trade-off on fiscal policy with an agreement to reduce the deficit through expenditure cuts. This is vital because Britain’s financial position is precarious, and after the crisis in Greece, there are no soft options. Though the two parties were considered to be incompatible, their alliance has actually created confidence. This is because the issues have been spelt out clearly, without much room for ambiguity.
But any political arrangement is vulnerable to shocks and pressures. The extreme fringes in both parties are not happy with the compromises and may try to rock the boat. But the maturity shown by both Cameron and Clegg during the government formation parleys can help them in sustaining the government too. They have vowed that it will last for five years. The challenge is to stick together in times of future stress, when political, ideological or other issues of discord come to the fore.

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