Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Conservative/Liberal Democratic Coalition Government Taking Shape in UK

With Tory leader David Cameron finally ensconced in #10 Downing St as Prime Minister, and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister, the UK's first coalition government in 70 years is beginning to take shape. The Telegraph has the rundown on cabinet appointments so far (see here). Here are three appointments of particular interest to me:

The new Chancellor of the Exchequer is Conservative George Osborne, on whom primary responsibility will fall for dealing with the UK's existing budget woes. At 38, he is the youngest Chancellor for more than a century.

The new Secretary for the Environment and Climate Change is Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne. Huhne's  selection should appeal to both environmentalists and economists. He is a strong supporter of greatly expanding pollution taxes and offsetting them with reductions in income taxes.

Finally, former Conservative Party leader, and prize-winning biographer, William Hague makes a return to power as Foreign Secretary. He should be a great asset to Cameron.

An interesting piece of trivia: Osborne, Huhne, and Hague all attended Magdalen College, Oxford (though not together). Prime Minister Cameron attended Brasenose College, Oxford, while Deputy PM Clegg attended Robinson College, Cambridge.

There have not been many coalition governments in the history of the UK, and the few that have existed have not been overly successful or long-lived. Will this one be different? My guess is that it is possible for the Tories and LibDems to co-rule successfully, at least for a year or two. Neither party seems to have much reason to push for new elections in the hope of obtaining a clear majority any time soon - at least not before a sustained and robust economic recovery - as the likely result would be another hung parliament. The real test will be whether (a) the Tories seek to delay or derail a promised referendum on electoral reform and (b) how much the LibDems are willing to push Cameron on that issue.

Of course, if the LibDems succeed in their efforts to reform the UK's electoral system, it would be the most profound change in the British constitution for more than 100 years. Under proportional representation, hung parliaments would become the norm, and virtually all governments would be coalitions. However, that result might be avoided by holding run-off elections between the top vote-getters in each electoral district. It will be interesting to see the final shape of electoral reform proposals, assuming that the Tories do not scupper, by hook or by crook, the promised referendum.

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