Conservative leader David Cameron is now Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, better known on this side of the Atlantic as Great Britain or just plain England. He ousted Gordon Brown.
Upon arrival at 10 Downing Street, the official residence, Cameron and his wife Samantha were greeted with a mixture of cheers and jeers. He spoke to the gathered press, paying tribute to his predecessor.
He went on to say, “I aim to form a proper and full coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Coalition will throw up all sorts of difficulties but I believe that together we can provide that strong and stable government that our country needs.”
True to those words, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg has been named Deputy Prime Minister. There is significant ideological strain between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, which will result in some tricky negotiations to maintain a functioning government. It’ll be interesting to see how that tension resolves itself.
The U.S. relationship with Great Britain is an important one—we have no closer friend and ally. What will this coalition government mean for the “special relationship” between the two countries? What influence will the Liberal Democrats have on foreign affairs?
The Liberal Democrats a.k.a. Lib Dems are avid and vocal proponents of the European Union—they are not pro-American by any measurement. Lib Dems are opposed to involvement in Iraq and support immediate withdrawal of British troops from that country.
From a security viewpoint, their approach is worrisome to U.S. strategic interests. Dismissive of the war on terror, Lib Dems advocate multilateral action on the world stage, so questioning the impact they’ll have on British foreign policy is legitimate.
After all, David Cameron is no Margaret Thatcher. Politics is always about compromises and deal-cutting. That aspect is ratcheted up to a dizzying pace in a coalition government—the minority party carries weight and has leverage. Time will tell if Cameron has the backbone and ability to shape an effective government with his new partners.
What trade-offs will Mr. Cameron agree to with Liberal Democrats? What policies will he be forced to support and slap a happy face on in doing so?
The new Prime Minister is extremely image conscious, and strictly in terms of the political skills of empathy he is reminiscent of Bill Clinton. He has been branded Dave the Chameleon because of a tendency to tailor or spin his message to meet the expectations of any given audience.
Cameron is a new breed of Conservative which will keep him at odds with traditional conservative elements. Conservative columnist Peter Hitchens noted that by embracing social liberalism “Mr. Cameron has abandoned the last significant difference between his party and the established left.”
Cameron comes to power in the throes of an anti-incumbent backlash. Is his election a harbinger of a fresh wave of conservativism or merely the desperation of an angry electorate? In the midst of economic uncertainty, the mood in Great Britain is volatile.
The debt-crisis centered in Greece is spreading chaos across Europe. It is clear evidence that a cradle to grave welfare state is unsustainable, and a warning to be heeded. Somebody has to pay the bills.
Prime Minister Cameron is expected to fix the British economy and avoid the meltdown. At the same time, there is intense pressure to sustain and even increase spending on current social programs.
Given the mess he is committed to cleaning up, Cameron’s first words to the press upon arrival at 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister, are a gross understatement, “This is going to be hard and difficult work.”
Hard and difficult work, indeed. Good luck, Mr. Prime Minister.