The May 6th, 2010 General Elections in the United Kingdom produced the hung parliament much speculated about since the beginning of the electoral campaign. The post-election negotiations then produced the first peacetime coalition government in Britain since the 1930s. As no one party had achieved the majority necessary to govern alone, the country’s third party found itself in a powerful position and following five days of negotiations with both the Conservative and the Labour parties, the Liberals opted to back the Conservatives.
On May 11th, Conservative Party leader David Cameron assumed the post of British Prime Minister, announced Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg his deputy and divided cabinet seats and high-level posts between members of their respective parties. Conservative George Osborne will be the UK’s new Chancellor for the Exchequer, fellow Conservative William Hague - the Foreign Secretary, while the Liberal Democrats, taking up five ministerial seats, will include Vince Cable as Business Secretary.
On policy, both parties have also had to compromise to accommodate their new partner. In the last hours of the post-election negotiations David Cameron offered Nick Clegg a referendum on the electoral system. While the Conservatives have long rejected any move away from the first-past-the-post system, the Liberal Democrats had spearheaded their campaign with promises of an electoral-system revamp. Thus the move had the desired effect and Clegg accepted the offer, but the compromise involved sees the Liberals settling for a referendum on the less proportional ‘alternative voting’ system. As part of the coalition pact, the Liberal Democrats have also agreed to support Conservative plans for immediate and comprehensive spending cuts and to back a cap on non-EU immigration numbers. In return, the Conservatives have postponed plans to raise the inheritance tax threshold and have agreed to raise the capital gains tax to help pay for a Liberal Democrat plan to lift the income tax threshold. The strength of the coalition will, however, face its most trying challenges on policies such as Europe, where the two parties are diametrically opposed.
Thus, while both leaders promise a sea change in British politics and a comprehensive overhaul of Labour policies, according to Eurostat the UK government’s general budget deficit for 2009 was 11.5 percent of GDP. The challenges for the coalition are clear and the responses are unlikely to garner much popularity. Either way, drastic change in one form or another appears inevitable.
Against this background, CIDOB has compiled a dossier of expert studies and analysis examining the electoral system, the rise of the Liberal Democrats and British politics in general. The UK Special contains publications by a range of leading British and European think tanks and covers the central themes of economics, foreign policy and the UK’s relations with the EU. It links readers to the most important commentators in the international media and to specialist websites examining electoral reform and public policy. Ultimately it aims to provide a useful starting point for research of contemporary British politics.
Han colaborado en la realización de este dossier: Mary Jane O’Leary y Deniz Devrim
(Dr.) Alan Butt Philip, Opinión CIDOB núm 70