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Britain gets a new government

Conservative David Cameron became Britain’s new prime minister, ending 13 years of Labor rule and presiding over the country’s first coalition government since World War II.

Conservative David Cameron became Britain’s new prime minister this week, ending 13 years of Labor rule and presiding over the country’s first coalition government since World War II. The election last week produced a rare “hung Parliament,” in which no single party gained a governing majority. Conservatives took 306 of the 650 seats, while the leftist Labor Party of now ex–Prime Minister Gordon Brown took 258 and the center-left Liberal Democrats took 57. That meant that whichever party Liberal Democrat head Nick Clegg made a coalition deal with would govern—and he flirted with both sides. In the end, Cameron offered a key concession, promising a referendum on an electoral reform that could benefit smaller parties.

Cameron, 43, is the youngest British prime minister since 1812. He said his top priority would be to make deep cuts in Britain’s massive budget deficit, and to help build a society “where we don’t just ask what are my entitlements, but what are my responsibilities.”

“What an extraordinary five days,” said E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post, as lawmakers engaged in “Byzantine” negotiations that resulted in a coalition whose viability is uncertain. There’s a lesson in this for the U.S.: “You can count on chaos when a country still has an electoral system premised on just two parties even though two-party politics has broken down.”

Yet ultimately, the system “worked beautifully,” said Anne Applebaum, also in the Post. “Brown made a brief, bitter bid to stay on in his job, then resigned with impressive grace.” In fact, “so rapid are the turnarounds in British politics” that Brown vacated the official residence at No. 10 Downing St. that very night, and Cameron has already moved his family in.

The British vote holds another lesson for Americans, said Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times. “Voters aren’t looking for massive change right now; they’re looking for leaders who can find a safe way out” of the economic crisis. For the first time in decades, Britain, Germany, France, and Italy all have conservative leaders. In these tough times, people “yearn for security, not audacity. In that sense, at least, this is a conservative moment—on both sides of the Atlantic.”

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