It's Prime Minister David Cameron
What an extraordinary five days it has been in British politics. An indecisive election result led to the sorts of political negotiations for which the word Byzantine really is appropriate.
First, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg entered negotiations with David Cameron, the Conservative party leader whose party had won the most votes and seats. Then he opened simultaneous negotiations with Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour Party, but kept the Conservative talks going. Then the talks with Labour fell apart. Brown has now resigned, and Cameron will form the new government, apparently in coalition with the Lib Dems. The word is that Clegg will be deputy prime minister and that the Lib Dems will have Cabinet positions for the first time.
Philosophically, the Lib Dems have more in common with Labour than with the Tories. But the talks with Labour broke down partly because many in Brown’s party did not want a coalition but preferred to go into opposition. Their view was that Labour had lost the election and that voters would see a continuation of their party in office as illegitimate. And since between them, Labour and the Lib Dems did not command a majority of the seats, a coalition government joining those two parties would have been a shaky affair, relying on support from regional parties.
One wonders – there is still much we don’t know – if the disagreement on a coalition also had its ideological side, with some on the left of the Labour party wary that an alignment with the Lib Dems would strengthen Labour centrists. Some of the strongest supporters of a coalition, including Foreign Secretary David Milliband and Peter Mandelson, the party’s key election strategist, were closely identified with former Prime Minister Tony Blair. It seems that the non-Blarites were less enthusiastic on the whole.
Cameron’s decision to ally with the Lib Dems could have a far-reaching impact on his own party. Many on the right end of the Tory Party are wary of the alliance -- a mirror of the reaction on the Labour left. Cameron’s eagerness for a deal suggests he really may want to remake the Conservative Party along more progressive lines. Blogging for the conservative Daily Telegraph, Damian Thompson noted that this is “what Tory Right-wingers fear most.” The worry on the right, Thompson wrote, is “that Liberal Democrat MPs will become lobby fodder for changes that Dave could never sell to the Conservative Party in the country. It might seem churlish to speculate like this just as Cameron is kissing hands with the Queen, and of course he deserves congratulations. But still.”
And how will the Liberal Democrat rank-and-file respond to this new alliance? There is already skepticism. Here is Anne Perkins at the center-left Guardian:
To give Clegg the benefit of the doubt, the numbers for a Labour deal never stacked up (quite apart from appearing to be a deliberate attempt to flout the will of the voters). Maybe he wants to show people that party identity can survive coalition; and it's true that it does in systems that have grown familiar with the idea. But the shouts tonight of "yellow Tories" as Lib Dem negotiators came out of the Cabinet office tonight aren't likely to go away in a hurry. It has already shocked activists assembled for the TV news bulletins…. Saturday's Lib Dem special conference, required to ratify the deal, will be an interesting event.
Indeed it will. But Cameron seemed willing to do whatever it took to become prime minister. Now he has the prize. There is this nice fact, courtesy of the Times of London: “At 43 he becomes Britain's youngest prime minister since the Earl of Liverpool in 1812.”
| May 11, 2010; 4:14 PM ET
Categories: Dionne | Tags: E.J. Dionne
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