Former UK Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said a week is a long time in politics but May 11 seemed like a very long day before Conservative leader David Cameron finally made it to No. 10 Downing Street.
The Labour-Liberal Democrat alliance that most of the TV commentators and newswires had been expecting since the previous evening, when Prime Minister Gordon Brown had indicated he would be standing down, came unhinged around lunchtime.
The two parties couldn’t have mustered a parliamentary majority without needing the support of other smaller parties and independent MPs in a sort of “rainbow coalition.” It soon became clear the numbers wouldn’t stack up.
Having begun talks with the Conservatives because they won most parliamentary seats by taking 306 of the 650 available in the House Of Commons, it soon became clear that Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg – or at least some of his henchmen – were also having talks with Labour, which had taken 258 seats.
If the Labour seats were added to the 57 the Liberal Democrats won, the total of 315 would be enough to out-vote the Tories.
However, relying on the support of a few small groups of largely Irish, Scottish or Welsh MPs to obtain an overall working majority of 326 votes didn’t appear a solid platform for building the solid government that the country and international money markets require.
The cost of such support would likely have required some assurances that Ireland, Scotland or Wales would be spared from the most stringent cuts in public spending. It may even have to have been bought with promises that those regions would see a bigger slice of the public purse.
The Lib-Dems yo-yoed between meetings with Labour and Conservative negotiating teams throughout the day and it wasn’t until nearly 7:30 p.m. that Brown announced his resignation with immediate effect. A couple of hours later Cameron was in No. 10.
At press time the full lineup of the new coalition was still being kept under wraps, but Cameron will be Prime Minister and Clegg will likely be his deputy.
Tory shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague is likely to take that role in government. George Osborne will likely be Chancellor of the Exchequer, Liam Fox will be Defence Secretary and Andrew Lansley will be Health Secretary. The Liberal Democrats in the cabinet will almost certainly include its former Treasury spokesman Vince Cable holding an enhanced brief covering business and the banks.
David Laws, another Lib-Dem MP, is likely to be Schools Secretary and at least one more of his colleagues can be expected get a seat at the top table.
Cameron, 43, is the youngest UK Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool held the post nearly 200 years ago. The government will be the first coalition since Winston Churchill’s wartime administration nearly 70 years ago.