New challenges for Britain

David Cameron is Britain’s new prime minister after Gordon Brown stepped down this Tuesday. Mr Cameron accepted the Queen’s invitation to form a new government when Mr Brown submitted his resignation to her. The Conservative Party will form a government with the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems). Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems, is the new deputy prime minister. It is quite refreshing to see democratic norms being followed in an old, established parliamentary democracy. Power was transferred to Mr Cameron in a smooth and civilised manner so as to respect the mandate of the electorate. A struggle for democracy is still going on in Pakistan, thus we must learn a few lessons from the mother of all parliaments, Westminster, especially the fact that the real sovereign are the people. In Pakistan, things might not have been the same in a similar situation given our penchant for palace intrigues.

Given that there is a great ideological divide between the Tories and the Lib Dems, it was quite perplexing for some to see them form a government together, but as they say, politics makes for strange bedfellows. There may be a number of reasons for the Lib Dems to choose the Tories over the Labour Party. One of them could be a lack of majority in parliament even if the Lib Dems had decided to support the Labour Party. Rather than opt for a precarious coalition, the Lib Dems chose to work with the Tories in the interests of a stable coalition government.

The new British government has a number of challenges ahead, the first and foremost being the financial crunch the country is in. The global recession has played a major role in leading to the financial crisis; capitalism can be described as the mother of all evils here. Finance (read banks) became more dominant in the 21st century. In this backdrop, one blip in the financial sector knocked down the entire world economy. The structural and inequitable streak of capitalism came out in full form during the last two years. Britain, like many other developed nations, tried to rescue its banks with a substantial bailout package from taxpayers’ money, which served as a double whammy for the people who not only suffered at the hands of these very institutions but the banks were saved at the public’s expense. The Labour Party was criticised for its economic policies, but it can be argued that Gordon Brown became the prime minister at an unfortunate time and there was only so much that he could do. Although the financial crisis is over to a certain extent, by no means has it been settled. So, the new coalition government will need to bring about some major economic reforms.

The hopes of the new electorate will also need to be respected. The new government has agreed to bring about electoral reforms as per the Lib Dems’ wishes but is still undecided as to what route will they opt for – proportional representation like in Italy, or a mix of both first-past-the-post and proportional representation like in Germany. The advantage of proportional representation is that it is a far better reflection of the will of the electorate but as we have seen in Italy, it often gives rise to a fractured mandate and weak coalitions. Britain may have to find a middle way like Germany. It is hoped that this would not be a stumbling block in the coalition government. The jury is out on how long the new government will survive, and whether Cameron and company are looking down the barrel of a fresh election.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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