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Cuts top agenda at first coalition cabinet

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 13 May 2010

The deficit and how to combat it was the chief topic at the first coalition cabinet, as a former Treasury source tells Channel 4 News that cuts for every department have already been worked out.

First meeting of the new cabinet under prime minister David Cameron (Reuters)

Downing Street said Mr Cameron and his deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, opened the first cabinet meeting by emphasising their shared agenda and commitment to work together.

On the agenda at this morning's meeting was an update on the economy from Chancellor George Osborne, who also stressed he would work with Vince Cable on banking reform. Afghanistan and the parliamentary timetable were also discussed, and the cabinet agreed to bring in a five per cent pay cut for ministers.

Economics editor Faisal Islam says: "Day two of the Con-Lib Treasury and we understand that they could be ready to move on the controvertial £6bn of cuts this year rather more quickly than expected, a senior former Treasury figure telling Channel 4 News that all the work on those cuts had already been done, ready for political sign-off."

The ministerial pay cut will be followed by a pay freeze for the rest of parliament.

Mr Cameron will now get paid £142,500 - £7,500 less than Gordon Brown was. Other cabinet ministers will get £134,565 and junior ministers will get £89,435.

No 10 estimates that the reductions will save £300,000 this year and around £3m over the lifetime of the Parliament.

New Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said of the meeting: "It was excellent really, it is like we have been working together for years."

Lower ranks
Yesterday saw the appointment of five Liberal Democrats to senior cabinet positions: Nick Clegg is deputy prime minister, Vince Cable becomes business secretary, Chris Huhne is energy secretary, chief secretary to the Treasury goes to David Laws, and Scottish secretary goes to Danny Alexander.

Some of the Liberal Democrat apopintments risk angering senior Tories forced to make way for their coalition partners. Senior Tories - including Chris Grayling, Dominic Grieve and Theresa Villiers – lost out on full cabinet positions.

Political editor Gary Gibbon's analysis:
Chatted to a few Tory MPs this morning who are feeling distinctly queasy about yesterday’s grand launch of the new coalition. Some close to Cameron talk of it as a "Clause 4 moment" for the modernising project.

The best scenario, the doomsters say, is that when it collapses the Conservatives end up capturing some of the more economically liberal of the Lib Dems and thereby decapitating a party that rivals them in councils and constituencies round the country.

These are, I should emphasise, conversations with the dispossessed. Those who haven’t had “the call to office” and think they may now never get it.

Former Labour foreign secretary Margarett Beckett today bemoaned the lack of women in the coalition government.

There are only two women with senior cabinet roles: Home Secretary Theresa May and Environment Secretary Caroline spelman. Cheryl Gillian (Welsh secretary) and Baroness Warsi (minister without portfolio and Conservative party chairman) also have cabinet posts.

Ms Beckett told GMTV that the lack of women was "a consequence of the lack of encouragement and the lack of bringing people forward in the past".

An early test of the inevitable conflicts of interest that the coalition will produce emerged this morning when Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, whose Liberal Democrat party opposes the building of new nuclear power plants, explained that Lib Dem MPs will have to abstain rather than vote against a Conservative party policy that favours the expansion of nuclear energy.

More Channel 4 News analysis of the new coalition government:
- Does 'new politics' mean more Oxbridge males?
- Who Knows Who: the cabinet
- Dealing with a marriage of convenience- Coalition deal: winners and losers

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "This is a coalition agreement which has always involved ompromise on both sides. There's no doubt about that."

Last night David Cameron, Nick Clegg and other senior cabinet members attended their first meeting of the government’s National Security Council. Ministers were briefed on the situation in Afghanistan and counter-terrorism work in the UK.

It follow yesterday afternoon's press conference in the garden of No.10 Downing Street, when Prime Minister Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Clegg fielded questions from journalists.

The majority of the 232 new MPs elected in last week's general election. Newly elected MPs pose in Westminster. Click here to see picture in full.

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