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Europe

Britain reflects on historic coalition government's first 100 days

After no clear winner in last May's parliamentary elections, the United Kingdom launched its first post-WWII coalition government. Now, analysts are measuring what the government has accomplished and what lies ahead.

David Cameron and Clegg

Cameron and Clegg have been branded the UK's odd couple

One hundred days ago, Conservative David Cameron and Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg embarked on what is for Britain a political experiment: a full-blooded coalition government.

Cameron's Conservative Party failed to win an outright majority in elections on May 6, producing a hung parliament for only the second time since World War II. The result was an unlikely union with the traditional third party, the Liberal Democrats.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Clegg on May 12, Cameron said he was announcing more than just a new government.

Nick Clegg poses with British students

Clegg's party has come in from the cold

"We are announcing a new politics - a new politics where the national interest is more important than the party interest, where cooperation wins out over confrontation," he said.

Dropping popularity

Cameron is currently on holiday, making Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg the public face of the government. Responding to recent disappointing approval ratings, Clegg downplayed the numbers and said he was "proud" of what the two parties had achieved together.

"It's inevitable that you get some sort of ups and downs in the polls, but it's really, really early days," he said. "This is 100 days into a coalition government that is going to provide five years of government. So I hope we will be judged not by snapshot polls… but by what we will have achieved over five years."

To cut or not to cut

The coalition's business has been dominated by Britain's soaring budget deficit, which it hopes to eliminate by the end of this parliament. It has already announced billions of pounds in spending cuts, and plans to announce even more in the near future.

Red traffic light next to Big Ben

The opposition Labour Party wants to put a halt to spending cuts

The opposition Labour Party has said the government's cuts put the country's badly-needed economic recovery at risk.

"Although we saw more encouraging figures from Europe last week, they were largely driven by Germany," said former Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Alistair Darling." The rest of Europe, you're seeing growth that is pretty flat. And the risk is that if you simply bump along the bottom, you'll have higher unemployment than would otherwise be the case."

But current Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said the government has no choice but to cut, and that by ignoring the deficit the Labour Party is putting political interests ahead of their country.

"Both those who deny the need to cut the deficit and those who refuse to say how to do it are placing themselves outside the domestic and international debate," he told reporters in London. "And in becoming deficit-deniers, they are saying they would set their country on a road to economic ruin. We won't do that."

Tough road ahead

50-pound note

The government has cut billions from its budget, and plans to cut even more

The government is planning a comprehensive spending review next October, likely to bring even more painful multi-billion pound spending cuts. But despite its difficult position, the coalition has shown no signs of collapse and has committed itself to a full five-year term.

Still, there is discontent among Liberal Democrats who are not part of the government and who disapprove of the scale of spending cuts. Likewise, many rank-and-file Conservatives are bothered by the number of ministerial positions that have gone to Liberal Democrats.

According to London School of Economics professor Rodney Barker, the coalition leadership remains strong, but keeping the wider party membership is the greater challenge.

"The real splits in the coalition are not between the Conservative party and Liberal Democrats, but within the Liberal Democrats and within the Conservatives," he said. "And that will get worse."

Author: Olly Barratt (acb)
Editor: Susan Houlton

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