(Edited from AP, London) Former rivals David Cameron and Nick Clegg hailed their new coalition government as the coming of a new era in British politics on Wednesday, glossing over policy differences but pledging to tackle the country’s most pressing problem – the ballooning deficit.

(Edited from AP, London) Former rivals David Cameron and Nick Clegg hailed their new coalition government as the coming of a new era in British politics on Wednesday, glossing over policy differences but pledging to tackle the country’s most pressing problem – the ballooning deficit.

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders stood in Downing Street’s sun-dappled garden and promised that their partnership was united by common purpose and will survive for a full five-year term. They pledged sweeping reform to Parliament, civil liberties laws and on ties to Europe, and a renewed focus on the conflict in Afghanistan.

The Foreign Office said new Foreign Secretary William Hague would visit Washington Friday for talks sure to focus on the Afghan war.

With handshakes, wide smiles and a sprinkling of jokes, Clegg and Cameron showcased their extraordinary pact, which ousted ex-leader Gordon Brown, whose Labour Party held power for 13 years.

Soon after, former Foreign Minister David Miliband announced his bid for the leadership of Britain’s opposition Labour Party. Long seen as the front-runner for the job, Miliband recently earned the backing of another early favorite, former Home Secretary Alan Johnson, but may still face competition from a range of other Labour figures, not least his younger brother Ed Miliband, the former energy and climate change minister.

One-time foes Cameron and Clegg banded together after Britain’s election last week denied all parties a majority – leaving the country with its first hung Parliament since 1974.

Britons struggling to make ends meet during a punishing recession gave no single group a mandate, and many were left enraged at politicians of all stripes after a damaging lawmakers’ expense scandal last year.

“Until today, we have been rivals: now we are colleagues,” said Clegg – the surprise upstart of Britain’s election campaign, who won a newly enhanced profile but saw his party lose seats in the vote.

Side by side, Clegg turned to his new partner and spelled out their joint message. “This is what the new politics looks like,” he said.

Cameron has appointed their joint Cabinet – including four other members of Clegg’s Liberal Democrat party – and the men laid out a draft program for the next five years.

They pledged to keep Britain out of the euro currency until 2015 at least; agreed immediate 6 billion pounds (US$9 billion) cuts to government waste and vowed House of Lords members would be elected, rather than appointed.

Cameron said the government will immediately begin tackling Britain’s record 153 billion-pound ($236 billion) deficit.

Both look deeply relaxed in each other’s company.

One of the first calls of congratulation to the new prime minister came from President Barack Obama, an acknowledgment of Britain’s most important bilateral relationship. Obama invited Cameron to visit Washington this summer.

Both Cameron and Clegg have acknowledged that Labour’s government under ex-leader Tony Blair was too closely tied to Washington’s interests. Both men back the Afghanistan mission, but Cameron hopes to withdraw British troops within five years. Clegg has said he’s uneasy at a rising death toll. Leaner coffers may also mean less money to enter foreign-led military operations.

The new foreign secretary, William Hague, told the BBC that the new government wanted a “solid but not slavish relationship” with the United States and described the so-called special relationship between the two countries as being of “huge importance.”

Hague is expected to speak by telephone later to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and soon travel to the United States and Afghanistan.

Relations with European neighbors could also become problematic. Cameron’s party is deeply skeptical over cooperation in Europe and has withdrawn from an alliance with the parties of Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy. Clegg, once a member of the European parliament, has long been pro-European.

The new British leader also spoke Wednesday with two key allies, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The new British chief has vowed to build a “new special relationship” with India, believing the country can become a major political and trade partner.

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