Like most multi-party governments around the world, the UK coalition was formed on the basis of an agreed programme for government (PfG), negotiated in the aftermath of the election. This agreement contained detailed plans, across a range of major policy areas, “for five years of partnership government.”
As the coalition set about implementing the PfG during the long 2010-12 parliamentary session, however, it became apparent that a single document negotiated in May 2010 could not encompass the full agenda of the government for five years. While the PfG provided an important reference point for the coalition in its early days, the government has increasingly needed to develop new policies, to strike new compromises, and to respond to new challenges.
As the mid-point of the fixed-term parliament approaches, there has been increasing talk of the need for government renewal or a refresh. Early talk of a second PfG document has been scaled back, owing to the difficulty of negotiating and ratifying a comprehensive new deal, and the growing desire on the part of the parties to emphasise their distinctive identity.
Further, owing to the need to maintain the balance between and within the two parties, it may be relatively difficult to shake up the government in other ways, such as through reshuffles or reorganisation of the machinery of government.
At the next election, the country will face the unusual situation of having two parties running on a shared record but different policy platforms, posing challenges to the parties and to the civil service, who must keep the government running even while ministers may be openly disagreeing with one another in public.
Institute for Government project
The Institute for Government has been investigating these subjects through research into the renewal challenges faced by the UK coalition, and into lessons from coalitions elsewhere. We have interviewed more than sixty politicians, officials, advisers, and activists from the UK, Ireland, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, and the devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland.
The core areas of focus are:
- The utility of the programme for government in setting a clear direction for the government for the full five-year term.
- The options for renewal of the coalition, ranging from statements of purpose to a second PfG, or other ways to ‘refresh’, such as Cabinet reshuffles or changes to the machinery of government.
- The likely challenges the coalition will face in the run-up to the next election as pressures for differentiation increase.
A blog setting out some of our thinking was published on 8 May 2012, under the title “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, where next? Relaunching the coalition”.
Our final report will be published in June 2012.
This research builds upon a number of previous Institute for Government research projects and reports. In particular, the Making Coalition Government Work programme of work has documented the adaptation to coalition government of Westminster and Whitehall since May 2010 (and itself built upon our pre-election study of hung parliaments and minority governments).