This political speech made by United Kingdom’s new prime minister David Cameron in May 2010 could be considered the beginning of a new era in the politics of the country because, for the first time after World War II, Britain would have a coalition government. David Cameron (born in London in 1966) was elected leader of the Conservative Party in December 2005. He has modernised his Party, the Conservatives, by introducing new ideas such as the environmental defence, gay rights and abortion. He has a fresh, young and moderate image.
The conservative leader gave this speech outside No 10 Downing Street right after being appointed Prime Minister. Cameron clearly describes UK’s social and economic situation and points out the main challenges he will have to face during his office. He addresses to the citizens and ask them for their help, but also to the political parties. In fact, one of his objectives for the term is to reform Parliament and to end with two-parties system. Cameron starts thanking the outgoing prime minister, Labour’s Gordon Brown, who succeeded Tony Blair in June 2007.
Brown resigned in 11 May 2010 since the general elections left no party able to govern on its own and he could not reach an agreement with the Liberal Democrats to form a government. Labour Party was weak after ruling for 13 years and finally the Liberal opted for the Conservatives, despite they are not so close ideologically to the Tories. The Liberal, with 23% of the seats, and the Conservatives, with 36,1% of the seats, formed a coalition with Cameron as prime minister and Nick Clegg as deputy PM.
As Cameron explains in his speech, UK is in need of a strong and stable government, and both parties are willing to work together in spite of their differences. Cameron details as well some of UK’s currents problems, basically the economic crisis and the reform of the political system. In this regard, Clegg had already said during his campaign that UK was immersed in a transition from the twosystem party to a more plural politics. According to him, this is a reform that any government should do to make people trust again in politics. Cameron didn’t agree with Clegg, although it was something he had to accept to make a pact with the Liberals.
The Labour Party had already made some changes in the House of Lords, but deeper reforms are needed to finish with the present system, that favours the majority parties (Conservatives and Labour) and is detrimental to third parties. At present the First-Past-The-Post (or simple majority) system is followed in general and local elections. That means that the winner in each of the 650 electoral district gets a seat and all the rest of the votes are wasted. In consequence, the seats obtained by a party are not a real representation of the number of votes. It could even happen that the winner had more people voting against him that for him.
Although it provides the country with stable and strong governments, this system has been questioned specially with the raise of the Liberal party, that in May was key to form a government. A referendum on the Alternative vote system is planned for citizens to decide. In the second part of this speech Cameron sends a message to the British society as he says that real change will only be achieved if “everyone pulls together, comes together, works together”. Cameron mentions some words that represent his centre-right position: freedom, fairness, family, values.
At the same time, he is in some way anticipating the unpopular and hard measures he has taken recently. After six months in the government, the coalition has approved a plan to cut spending and reduce to a half deficit, which is the largest structural budget deficit in Europe. The measures of the spending review are not popular: around 500,000 public jobs could be lost in four years; the retirement age will be raised from 65 to 66 years by 2020; rents will be raised for new tenants in council housing; and police budget has been reduced by 20%.
Changes will be also introduced in the unemployment subsidies, so that claimants who refuse three job offers will lose their allowance. Students have reacted by protesting violently in front of the Conservative headquarters. They complain specially about the raise in the tuition fees, that will be multiplied by three. The spending review is also facing critics of the Institute of Fiscal Studies: the think-thank believes that the poor will be the most affected by the measures.
During the campaign Labour, Liberal and Conservatives agreed on the need to cut spending, but the proposal of Cameron was the hardest. At the same time, the Tories thought the reforms had to start immediately, while the Labour preferred to wait a year until the economic recovery was consolidated. Indeed, some fear that the spending review will not help UK to get out of the crisis, and they claim that the present difficulties are only an excuse to reduce the power of the state (an important principle in the Conservatives’ ideology).
On the other side, Conservatives think that the private sector will be able to support the economy and will be reinforced, in spite of the cutback in spending. It is beyond doubt that the financial crisis has affected deeply all Europe, and that something had to be done to reduce the number of British citizens living on the governments subsidies. But it is not that clear that such strong measures had to be taken. UK’s economic situation is not as bad as other countries in Europe (like Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain) and it is still an economic leader.
At present I find difficult to say if Cameron’s decision is economically o politically driven. Only time will tell if the consequences on society, and specially on the poorest groups, were really disastrous or only a reasonable price to pay. Regarding Cameron’s intention to reform Parliament and the political system, it seems more like a requirement from the Liberal than a real wish. The Liberal were not as successful as they expected in the general elections, but they still were decisive to form a government.
Consequently it could be expected that they wanted to assure to be more represented in upcoming ballots. Both Cameron and Clegg proved to be able to make concessions six months ago. It is already a good beginning, but Cameron has a difficult task in front of him. He brings a progressive message, but he represents a Conservative party. And he will have to negotiate with his partner in the government. I think it is still to early to judge Cameron’s ability to renovate political life and make UK get out of the country.