British parliament reconvenes after Cameron's victory
LONDON, United Kingdom – British lawmakers appointed a speaker on Monday, May 18, as they convened in the House of Commons for the first time since a general election that handed Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives a surprise majority.
The former speaker, John Bercow, was re-elected and ceremonially dragged to the speaker's chair in a tradition dating back to centuries past, when previous holders of the office could be executed by thin-skinned monarchs.
Bercow said that he wanted lawmakers to be "part of the cast, not merely an audience" to government actions and promised to champion the rights of backbench MPs.
He also cracked a joke about the words he would like on his "political tombstone" – a reference to a widely mocked Labour campaign stunt that involved carving policy pledges into a block of limestone.
When Cameron took the floor, he underlined his new status at the head of an all-Conservative cabinet in contrast to the previous coalition he led with the Liberal Democrats.
"I've lost a coalition partner but I've gained a number of new friends," Cameron said to loud cheers from Conservative MPs, after his party won 331 out of 650 seats in the House of Commons in the May 7 election.
Cameron also promised more local powers for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, saying that the Scottish legislature would be the "strongest" in the world.
He noted that the new parliament was "more diverse and more representative" than ever before, including the first MP of ethnic Chinese background and the first female cabinet minister of Indian origin.
Harriet Harman, who took over temporary leadership of the center-left opposition Labour party after Ed Miliband resigned following their election defeat, congratulated Cameron on becoming prime minister.
"We applied for the job but we didn't get it. But we have got a very important job of being the official opposition and we will be fearless and effective in doing that," she said, despite divisions within Labour over the direction the party should take.
Members of the unelected upper House of Lords began to be sworn in on Monday and hundreds of newly-elected MPs in the House of Commons are due to take their oaths of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II from Tuesday, May 19.
Missing from the proceedings will be the 4 MPs from the Sinn Fein republican party in Northern Ireland, who refuse to swear allegiance as part of their long-standing opposition to British rule.
In contrast, an enthusiastic returning MP on the government benches is London Mayor Boris Johnson, a bombastic politician with unruly hair who is seen as a potential future leader of the Conservative party.
'Making Scotland's voice heard'
Cameron's election victory proved wrong pollsters who had predicted a much closer race against Miliband.
Miliband resigned as leader of the Labour party the next day, as did Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who had served as deputy prime minister in Cameron's coalition but whose party was reduced from 57 to just 8 seats.
Both Clegg and Miliband were re-elected to parliament and their respective parties have embarked on tortuous and months-long contests to replace them.
Among the new faces in parliament will be most of the pro-independence Scottish National Party's 56 MPs, who will be a powerful voice of opposition to the government.
"We look forward to making Scotland's voice heard. We look forward to opposing austerity," the SNP's leader in parliament, Angus Robertson, told MPs.
He also cracked jokes about the Liberal Democrats, who have been replaced by the SNP as the third largest party in parliament, as well as the crushed Scottish sections of the Conservatives and Labour.
The substantial business starts next week when the queen delivers a speech outlining the new government's program at the traditional state opening of parliament.
Debates on the policies outlined in the speech are expected to last for several days before a vote seen as a vote of confidence in the new government. – Dario Thuburn, AFP / Rappler.com