BBC News: Election 2010 BBC News

Page last updated at 15:34 GMT, Thursday, 13 May 2010 16:34 UK

Q&A: The Conservative-Lib Dem coalition

The Conservative Party is forming a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. Here is a guide to how it will work.

What's happening?

The Conservatives have agreed to form a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. It is the first time Britain has had a coalition government in 70 years - and the first time these two parties have ever agreed to a power sharing deal at a national level in the UK. Conservative leader David Cameron will lead the new government but there will be senior cabinet posts for Liberal Democrat MPs, with their leader Nick Clegg serving as deputy prime minister.

Why didn't the Conservatives form a government after the election?

They didn't get a clear win. Normally the party with more MPs than all the others put together forms a government, but the Conservatives fell just short of that. They have 306 MPs - they needed 326 for a majority. When no-one has a majority of MPs it is called a hung Parliament. . It means that to have effective government the Conservatives needed to form a coalition, or at least reach an understanding with the Lib Dems and/or other parties, to get legislation through. The Conservatives won 36% of the vote, Labour 29% and the Lib Dems 23%.

What sort of deal have the Conservatives and Lib Dems done?

They have entered a full coalition. The Lib Dems have been given five seats in Cabinet with a further 15 ministerial jobs expected - so more than a third of the 57 Lib Dem MPs will be in government. Vince Cable is Business Secretary, Danny Alexander Scottish Secretary and Chris Huhne Energy and Climate Change Secretary. David Laws is Chief Secretary to the Treasury. The arrangement appears to be intended to last for five years, given that the two parties have agreed to pass legislation which would set the next election on the first Thursday in May 2015.

What will be their key priorities?

Prime Minister David Cameron said the new government's priorities would be "safeguarding national security, supporting our troops abroad, tackling the debt crisis, repairing our broken political system and building a stronger society". Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said it would be a "bold, reforming government that puts fairness back into Britain".

How will the new government work?

It is impossible to say precisely, as we are in uncharted waters. Ministers from both parties will be bound by collective responsibility - meaning they must agree to support all Cabinet decisions - when it comes to key issues such as the economy, tax, defence, immigration, foreign policy and Europe. However, it has been agreed that the Lib Dem MPs will be permitted to abstain in a vote in the House of Commons on certain issues where they disagree with the Conservatives. One definite area of disagreement is on the Conservatives' plans for a tax break for married couples. Other such areas could be nuclear power and university tuition fees. Should the Lib Dems end up voting against the coalition on a central issue, that could bring an end to the deal.

Do we know what their policy plans are going to be?

The parties have published a document outlining the areas on which they agree. Their top priority is cutting Britain's budget deficit, "with the main burden of deficit reduction borne by reduced spending rather than increased taxes". There will be an emergency budget within 50 days. There will be a comprehensive spending review in the autumn but the NHS will be protected from cuts. Education is also a top priority. There will be extra money for disadvantaged pupils in a so-called "pupils premium" paid for with cuts elsewhere. Personal income tax allowances will be increased for lower and middle income earners. A long-term aim is to take people earning less than £10,000 a year out of the tax system. A commission will be set up to look at splitting up the big banks. There will also be a cap on non-EU migration. Reforming politics is also on the agenda with five year fixed term parliaments and a referendum on scrapping Britain's first-past-the-post voting system in favour of the Alternative Vote method. The document will be followed "in due course" by a final coalition agreement, covering the full range of policy and including foreign, defence and domestic policy issues.

What have we gleaned about Lib Dem compromises on policies?

The Lib Dems have agreed to back the Tories plan for £6bn in public spending cuts this year and support the scrapping of part of next year's 1% National Insurance tax rise. They have agreed to drop plans for a "mansion tax" on properties costing more than £2m and will support a cap on non-EU immigration. They have dropped their opposition to renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent although the cost of the project will be carefully scrutinised. They have also agreed that no further powers should be ceded to the EU without a referendum and the UK should not join the euro.

What have we gleaned about Tory compromises on policies?

The Conservatives have agreed to put back plans to raise the inheritance tax thresholds to £1m. They have also agreed to spend more money to cut class sizes for disadvantaged pupils. They have agreed to Lib Dem plans to raise the point at which people start paying tax to £10,000, although this will be phased in. As mentioned before, they have also said they will hold a referendum on the voting system and the introduction of fixed-term Parliaments, which they previously opposed.

What happens when there are disagreements?

With such a gap between the two parties on many issues there are bound to be disagreements between members of the coalition. Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg have both urged ministers to keep any differences which arise between them private. The prime minister and deputy prime minister will chair a new Coalition Committee specifically set up to resolve any disputes.

What will the two parties make of the deal?

Both men have tried to take their parties with them during the negotiations, giving them regular updates and taking soundings, and the fact that both parties are now in power will help garner support for the deal. But there is still likely to be some anger among backbench MPs and from grassroots activists on both sides who are more used to battling against each other in local and general elections than being on the same side. The two parties will take each other on in Thirsk and Malton, where the election has been delayed until 27 May due to the death of one of the candidates. A Liberal Party candidate is also standing.

What happens to Gordon Brown and Labour?

Gordon Brown has formally tendered his resignation as prime minster to The Queen. He has also stood down as leader of the Labour Party with immediate effect, handing over the reins to his deputy - and now acting leader - Harriet Harman. There will now be a battle to succeed Mr Brown at the head of the Labour Party, with a new leader likely to be in place by the middle of July. Labour Party MPs will sit on the opposition benches in the House of Commons for the first time in 13 years.

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