New British leaders play for laughs in double act

By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (BestGrowthStock) – Before he became prime minister of Britain, David Cameron was once asked what was his favorite joke. “Nick Clegg,” he replied.

The put-down came back to haunt Cameron when he was reminded about it during his first news conference as prime minister on Wednesday. Clegg, now Cameron’s deputy in a coalition government, was standing right next to him.

The way they handled the awkward question suggested that whatever their political differences, the two men had good chemistry.

Clegg burst out laughing and looked quizzically at Cameron, who pulled a face and muttered that he had indeed once made the quip. At that, Clegg pretended to storm off while Cameron cried “Come back!” Clegg returned to his lectern and the two men smiled broadly, apparently enjoying their double act.

Cameron’s center-right Conservative Party turned to Clegg’s much smaller center-left Liberal Democrats for support after an inconclusive election last Thursday. After five days of intense discussions, the two men took office Tuesday night.

After months spent lambasting each other’s policies, Cameron and Clegg now stood side-by-side in the sunny garden of 10 Downing Street, the official prime ministerial residence in central London, promising a bright future together.

Whether such light-hearted moments will be enough to relieve the inevitable tensions ahead remains to be seen. The two parties have radically different views on subjects as sensitive as immigration, defense and Britain’s relations with Europe.

MAYBE WE CAN SHARE A CAR

Asked whether the buoyant mood would evaporate at the first policy clash, Cameron said governing together would not be easy but the parties were “looking at the bigger picture” as they enter Britain’s first coalition government since World War Two.

“And if it means swallowing some humble pie and if it means eating some of your words, I cannot think of a more excellent diet on which to provide the country with good government.”

The scene was a world away from the two men’s performances during televised debates that dominated the election campaign.

Then, Clegg attacked Cameron as typical of the “old politics” he despised, while Cameron portrayed Clegg as a hopelessly naive novice who would endanger Britain.

All of that was set aside Wednesday as the two men bantered on the Downing Street lawn.

Cameron and Clegg are perhaps helped by similarities in their backgrounds. Both men are 43, both have fathers who worked in financial services, both went to exclusive private schools.

Their personal rapport may prove crucial to making the coalition work at times when the parties’ legislators will find themselves at loggerheads over policy issues.

But on this upbeat first outing, Cameron and Clegg seemed ready to make light of even the thorniest problems.

Asked about an upcoming by-election in a constituency where a Conservative and a Liberal Democrat candidate would be competing, Cameron said the two parties could perhaps save on petrol costs by sharing a car. Clegg chuckled at the idea.

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(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

New British leaders play for laughs in double act