Coalition ‘has to work for Britain’

A SENIOR East Anglia Liberal Democrat peer played a crucial role in the behind-the-scenes negotiations which led to the formation of Britain’s new Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market – who as Ros Scott was deputy leader of Suffolk County Council for 12 years during the Labour-Lib Dem coalition at county hall – admitted the coalition was “uncharted waters” but had to work for the good of the country.

However, the Lib Dems’ Euro MP for the region, Andrew Duff, said David Cameron should have been allowed to go it alone once a progressive alliance with Labour was ruled.

Lady Scott is president of the party and chaired the joint meeting of the parliamentary groups and federal executive which rubber- stamped the alliance with the Tories.

“As a party which believes in electoral reform, it is possible to support working with other parties,” she said. “The alternative was a minority Tory government, which would have been unstable at a time of economic difficulties.

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“We are in uncharted waters but, quite frankly, countries all over the world which have coalition government cannot understand why the British have a problem with it.”

Lady Scott spoke about “the enormous pressure” she and colleagues were under from 24-hour television coverage which was constantly demanding updates and situation reports. “Broadcast journalists were speculating a lot, most of which I have to say was absolute rubbish and far removed from the actuality of what was happening.”

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The region’s longest-serving Lib Dem MP, Bob Russell of Colchester, praised David Cameron for the brave step he had taken in recognising a situation which could only be resolved through co-operation.

“The country needs stability and the Tory and Lib Dem negotiators deserve our thanks for the way in which the talks were conducted.

“Joint working is common in local government. Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk county councils have all had Labour-Lib Dem alliances, in Ipswich the Tories and Lib Dems have been in coalition since 2006, and Labour and the Lib Dems run Colchester council.”

Mr Russell added: “There may be Lib Dem voters who are pretty cross that we are in government with the Tories, but I think they will come to realise just how good this will be for our democracy.”

Lord Phillips of Sudbury, the Chancellor of the University of Essex and a former parliamentary candidate for the Liberals and Lib Dems, said he did not think he would ever see the day when his party was in government. “I had always hoped and now the day has dawned, it is nothing short of momentous.

“The Lib Dems had to join with the Tories because that’s the way the electorate pointed. The party finishing third in the election could not join with the second to keep out the first –it would have led to widespread instability.

“The coalition poses a risk for the Lib Dems, but I am impressed by the way in which Mr Cameron has dealt with his right wing and that is a good omen for the new government.”

North Essex Tory MP Bernard Jenkin said: “These are extraordinary times – none of us know the long-term prospects but I think it will transform politics for ever.”

Dan Poulter, the newly elected Tory MP for Suffolk Central & Ipswich North, said stable government had to be the priority. “Any personal qualms have to be set aside so we can get on with the job of fixing the deficit we have inherited from Gordon Brown.”

Geoffrey Van Orden, Tory Euro MP for the region, said: I have enormous confidence in the talented team that we shall see around the Cabinet table handling the economy.

“Inevitably, there will be important differences within any coalition but our eyes are firmly focused on where we are in agreement – that’s what’s most important at the moment.”

Euro Lib Dem MP Mr Duff said he was “queasy” at the prospect of the Lib Dems working with the Tories. “I wanted a progressive partnership with Labour but, as that was difficult, we should have let Cameron go it alone. I hope the deal with the Tories works but I have my doubts. Today is not one for champagne but for strong black coffee,” he said.

Another sour note on the coalition government was struck by the Labour Party in Colchester. Its General Election candidate Jordan Newell urged all “progressive and principled” Liberal Democrats in the borough to join the Labour Party if they were unhappy with the coalition.

“People voted for the Liberal Democrats, Labour or Green Party specifically to prevent a Conservative victory in Colchester. Now many feel cheated.”

Mr Newell said MP Mr Russell “has traded policy and principle for the trappings of power, becoming nothing more than a ‘yes’ man propping up David Cameron’s Government.”

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