Coalition government: Day one
By Ian Dunt
Britain is having yet another historic political day, with the formation of the first coalition government since the Second World War.
Prime minister David Cameron and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg delivered a joint government press conference in the Rose Garden at Downing Street this afternoon.
“Liberal Democrats will be represented at every level of government,” Mr Cameron told the gathered reporters.
“We have a shared agenda and a shared resolve.
“I’m delighted to be standing here with the new deputy prime minister.”
Mr Clegg added: “Until today we were rivals and now we’re colleagues. That says a lot about the scale of the new politics that’s now beginning to unfold.”
“This is a government that will last, not because of a list of policies, not because it will be easy, we are different parties and we have different ideas, this is a government that will last despite those difficulties because we are united by a common purpose of what we want to do in the next five years.
“Whatever words you use, the change it will make to your life is the same. You will have the opportunities you crave,” he continued.
I came into politics to change politics. That work starts today.”
The men, whose banter and jokes appeared genuine throughout the press conference, even managed to make light of any previous animosity between them.
When one journalist asked if Mr Cameron regretted once referring to Mr Clegg as the best joke he knew, Mr Clegg pretended not to have heard of the incident.
“I’m afraid I did [say it] actually,” Mr Cameron told him, to which Mr Clegg jokingly pretended to walk away from the podium, to laughter from the assembled reporters.
The day began with Mr Clegg meeting Mr Cameron at Downing Street where the two men mapped out their Cabinet.
There were some surprising developments, with Theresa May becoming home secretary and Ken Clarke appointed justice secretary.
Two important economic posts went to the Lib Dems, with Vince Cable handed the business, innovation and skills brief and David Laws becoming chief secretary to the Treasury.
George Osborne became chancellor. William Hague also kept his pre-election brief, becoming foreign secretary.
Chris Huhne and Danny Alexander also received Cabinet positions for the Lib Dems. Once the junior ministerial designations are set, many more Lib Dem MPs are expected to have a role in the government.
The two parties also released a policy document mapping out the areas where the new government would work to secure change.
Many of the suggestions reflected Tory policy, such as immediate plans to cut the deficit or a cap on non-EU immigration, but others clearly showed a high degree of Lib Dem influence, notably over civil liberties, where a Great Repeal Bill has been promised.
Today marked a remarkable transformation for the Liberal Democrat leader, who just weeks ago was barely known outside Westminster, and will now argue the case for the government at prime minister’s question time when Mr Cameron is on foreign trips.
Mr Clegg praised the outgoing prime minister when he announced support from his MPs for a coalition deal last night.
“He has been a towering figure in British politics for well over a decade,” Mr Clegg said.
“And the manner in which he has acted over the last few days has demonstrated immense dignity, grace and a profound sense of his public duty.”
He also spoke directly to the people who voted for the Lib Dems last week, but may be dismayed to see the centre-left party get into bed with the Conservatives.
“Of course there will be problems along the way; of course there will be glitches.
“But I will always do my best to prove that new politics isn’t just possible – it is also better.
“I am now acutely aware that I carry your hopes and aspirations into this coalition agreement,” he said.
“I am sure you have many questions, maybe many doubts.
“But I can assure you I would not have entered into this agreement unless I was genuinely convinced it was a unique opportunity to deliver the changes you and I believe in.”
Speaking just before he entered Downing Street last night, Mr Cameron also raised hopes that the new government would survive the obvious difficulties in its path.
“This is going to be hard and difficult work,” he admitted.
“The coalition will throw up all sorts of challenges, but I believe together we can provide that strong and stable government that our country needs, based on those values, rebuilding family, rebuilding community, above all, rebuilding responsibility in our country.
“Those are the things I care about, those are the things that this government will now start work on doing.”
The formation of the new government caps a breathless and historic week in politics, which finally saw a winner enter Downing Street five days after the general election.
Yesterday morning began with Lib Dem-Labour talks. All reports indicate they went spectacularly badly, with both parties entering into a brutal war of words in their aftermath.
Labour accused the Lib Dems of already being intent on joining with the Conservatives, while Lib Dem sources suggested senior members of the negotiating team had no interest in a coalition, despite Gordon Brown’s sacrifice the day before.
Whatever the reason for the break down, the Lib Dem quickly found themselves in talks with the Conservatives again, at the Cabinet Office.
The marathon negotiating session was met with a festive mood outside, as protestors and journalists mingled in the cold May air.
Then, at around 19:00 BST, Mr Brown unilaterally decided to resign as prime minister, realising that Lib-Lab talks had irrevocably broken down after a phone call with Mr Clegg.
His visit to the Palace to see the Queen was followed within minutes by Mr Cameron, who became the 12th prime minister of her reign.
In a strange and lengthy day, Mr Cameron entered Downing Street for the first time, but only for a few minutes, before rushing back to the Commons at 22:00 BST to make sure his MPs agreed to the coalition deal.