Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Clegg - from third party leader to a heartbeat from power in one day

First take for the Record on a momenteous day for the Lib Dems, and the nation.

David Cameron became the first Tory Prime Minister of Britain in 13 years yesterday, borne into Downing Street on the back of Liberal Democrat votes.

The historic deal between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems bought Nick Clegg the post of Deputy Prime Minister, propelling him from the third party leader at Westminster to being a heartbeat away from running the country.

But the new government is set to usher in an Age of Austerity , with fears for savage cuts in budgets across Britain as the Tories hasten to pay off the national debt.

After an audience with the Queen, the formal kissing of hands ceremony, 43 year old David Cameron became Britain’s youngest Prime Minister in nearly two centuries.
Standing on the steps of Downing Street with his wife Samantha Cameron braced the country for "difficult decisions" ahead.

"We are going to have hard and difficult things to do," said Cameron as he prepared to lead the first coalition government in Britain into office since World War II.

He pledged that he and Nick Clegg would put aside party difference to work hard for the common good and for the national interest.

"I believe that is the best way to get the strong government that we need, decisive government that we need today."

Cameeron proimsed a proper and full coalition with the Liberal Democrats to provide strong and stable government for the country. Five Lib Dems are expected to be members of the cabinet and there will be Lib Dem Ministers in ever

"I think the service our country needs right now is to face up to our really big challenges, to confront our problems, to take difficult decisions, to lead people through those difficult decisions, so that together we can reach better times ahead.

The new coalition, dubbed a Government of All the Toffs because of Cameron and Clegg’s shared private school background, is ready to immediately wield the axe on social benefits like Child tax credits.

But it will legislate to protect civil liberties, scrap ID cards and reform the DNA database. There will be review of the Trident deterrent but a commitment to retain a nuclear defence system.

George Osborne was confirmed as Chancellor with Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable expected to join him as a Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the cabinet post in charge of efficiencies across government.

William Hague, deputy leader of the Tory party and a Eurosceptic contrast to the Lib Dems, was confirmed as Foreign Secretary and there was speculation on other posts.

Tory Michael Gove was expected to step aside from the education brief as Lib Dem David Laws took the cabinet post of Schools Secretary. The Scot also lost the Home Secretary post to a Lib Dem - that was expected to go to Chris Huhne.

The post of Scottish Secretary was set to go to Lib Dem Danny Alexander, the MP for the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey. The 37 year old chief of staff to Nick Clegg faces the toughest job in Scotland where the Lib Dems are being blamed by all sides for letting the Tories back into power.

The Lib Dems have 11 MPs in Scotland compared to the one Tory, David Mundell. But Mundell, who fought a doughty election campaign, was expected to be rewarded for his efforts.

The smooth transition of power, which took barely two hours yesterday evening, came after another dramatic Westminster day of seesaw talks in which the Lib Dems negotiated with both Labour and the Tories to form a government out of last Thursday’s inconclusive general election result.

Gordon Brown finally accepted defeat in the late afternoon. He ended the New Labour era by conceding defeat on the steps of Downing Street five days after the election produced a hung parliament in which no party had an overall majority.

Speaking alongside his wife Sarah outside No 10 Downing Street, Brown said the job had been "a privilege" and wished his successor well.

Brown succeeded Tony Blair as prime minister in June 2007 after spending ten years as his chancellor of the exchequer in one of the most effective, enduring but divided political double-acts Westminter has seen.

In an emotional farewell speech, Brown said he had "loved the job" and it had been "a privilege to serve".

"I wish the next prime minister well as he makes the important choices for the future," he said.

He added: "I loved the job for its potential to make this country I love fairer, more tolerant, more green, more democratic, more prosperous and more just - truly a greater Britain.

"In the face of many... challenges up to and including the global financial meltdown, I have always tried to serve, to do my best in the interests of Britain, its values and its people."

His wife Sarah joined him for his brief statement which ended with the words: "Thank you and goodbye."

Then his two young sons, John and Fraser, joined their parents and walked hand in hand out of Downing Street to cars that would take them to the palace.

His departure came as the Tories and Liberal Democrats were poised to agree a deal to form a government after Labour’s own negotiations ended in failure yesterday.

As Brown went to Buckingham palace to tender his resignation the coalition deal was still subject to approval by a meeting of Lib Dem MPs and the party’s ruling Federal Executive.

If it is endorsed, without referring to the membership, David Cameron and Nick Clegg will start appointing Ministers this morning.

In return for taking the Tories into office, after 13 years and three terms of Labour government, the Lib Dems secured five cabinet seats and a minister in every Whitehall department.

The Lib Dems, who proved to me masterful negotiators, scored big in the talks and wrung several major concessions out the Tory party that was almost 20 MPs short of forming a government on its own.

The Tories have also given a pledge of a referendum on a weak form of PR, the alternative vote system, which Labour promised but the Lib Dems felt they could not deliver.

The coalition deal would introduce fixed five year terms for Westminster, a measure already in place for elections to the Scottish parliament.

But the downside of the deal is that a Tory and Lib Dem led Treasury, with George Osborne assisted by Vince Cable, could start drastic cuts in public spending as the country is just coming out of recession.

Big defence projects like the supercarriers being built in Labour held constituencies in Rosyth and Glasgow could be the first in line to be cut. If the cabinet post of the Scotland Office is filled up by a one of the 11 Lib Dem MPs returned last Thursday the party could pay a terrible electoral price for propping up the Tories in office.

Labour’s Scottish parliamentary leader Iain Gray said the Lib Dems had signed a Faustian pact with the devil himself.

He said: "Labour warned that a vote for the Liberal Democrats would only help David Cameron into Downing Street, and we were right. Scotland will pass judgement on them for this deal with the devil."

Gray added: "The great majority of Scots rejected the Tories at the election and the Liberal Democrats will pay in the months and years ahead for propping up David Cameron.

The SNP, smarting after being snubbed in the formation of an alternative progressive coalition, furiously blamed all the other parties.

Angus Robertson, the SNP Westminster leader who flew to London as a "negotiator" for the SNP delivered an angry judgement on a coalition. But senior Nats secretly welcomed as delivers them a big political mallet with which to bash the Lib Dems and the Tories.

Robertson said: "This failure will haunt the Labour Party in Scotland for years to come. Thanks to Labour’s animosity towards the SNP and their refusal even to talk to the SNP about an alternative, Scotland now has a Tory Government with a savage cuts agenda."

He added: "Unfortunately, the Lib Dems preferred a regressive alliance with the Conservatives, and Labour preferred to inflict a Tory government on the majority of voters who rejected such an administration.

Gordon Brown had to pack his bags and leave Downing Street for the last time after his audacious attempt to form an progressive alliance with the Lib Dems, that would have locked the Tories out of power, came to nothing.

Brown offered up his own resignation to broker a deal with the Lib Dems but senior Labour cabinet figures opposed the idea of a minority government coalition and the prospect of PR voting.

Yesterday afternoon he retreated to No 10 to discuss his situation with senior ministers, friends and wife Sarah. He was surrounded by his closest allies: Ed Balls, Lord Mandelson, Sue Nye, and Douglas Alexander.

Tony Blair, with whom Brown fought with bitterly when he was Chancellor for the rights to the leadership, was contacted on the phone.

Brown, Mandelson and Blair started the New Labour project, to reform the party into an electable fighting force, after a string of Labour defeats in the 80s and 90s and they ended it together yesterday.

Last night Tony Blair issued a statement paying tribute to Gordon Brown's dignity and leadership as his political career came to an end. There were no immediate plans for Brown to stand down as MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath where he has been MP for 27 years.

Brown had planned to stay in power until the summer if the deal had worked, earning himself a place in history as the man who won a historic fourth term for Labour.

However, Labour MPs and ministers reacted with anger to the attempted deal, saying they would prefer to be in opposition than in government with the Lib-Dems.

A friend of the Prime Minister said: "The deal with Clegg was just not do-able."
Lib Dem negotiators, who had opened talks with a Labour team yesterday after 48 hours of talks with the Tories, lost faith in the party’s ability to deliver all of its 258 MPs in tight votes that would deliver the Alternative Voting system.

The failure of the Lib-Lab talks was being blamed on several factors. Mr Clegg’s team asked for reassurances on tax and spending issues that Labour felt were not possible to deliver. On voting reform, Labour offered a referendum on an AV-plus system of voting in the next parliament, a time scale that the third party felt was too distant to be bankable.

Instead the Lib Dems handed the keys to power to David Cameron’s Conservatives. The deal was subject to the approval of a meeting of Lib Dem MPs last night and the it would have to be approved by the Lib Dems’ ruling body, the Federal Executive and possibly need the approval of the whole party membership.

Nick Clegg and David Cameron had another face to face meeting yesterday as Clegg came under pressure to make his mind up one way or another on a deal. The two men will be seeing a lot of each other from now on.

No comments:

Post a Comment