Making coalition government work

The formation of the Coalition has required politicians, civil servants and others to adapt in the face of the new challenges of multi-party government. What lessons can be drawn from the first year of coalition rule, and how might the system need to evolve further?

Since the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition was formed in May 2010, the Institute for Government has been one of the leading commentators on how the Coalition is operating and how the British political system has adapted to having a coalition government for the first time in 65 years.

Coalition government one year on

In May 2011, on the anniversary of the coalition formation, the Institute published One Year On: The first year of coalition government. This report contains a collection of essays by Institute researchers and fellows assessing the performance of the Coalition in its first year, the lessons that have been learnt about governing in coalition and the major challenges on the horizon.

The report also contains the findings of a specially-commissioned One Year On opinion poll on the public's attitudes to coalition government after 12 months. Specific issues addressed in the report include:

  • how effectively the coalition partners have worked together
  • how the Government has reshaped Downing Street and the rest of Whitehall
  • how well the Coalition has delivered on three key policy objectives: tackling the deficit, reforming the constitution and creating a Big Society
  • how the Opposition and Parliament have adapted to the presence of a coalition government
  • what the public think of coalition government and the two coalition partners' performance so far.

The report finds that during the first year, the Coalition has operated effectively as an executive, in terms of its ability to take and implement tough decisions and avoid destabilising disputes.

But the separate identities of the two parties have been insufficiently protected, with the result that the Liberal Democrats in particular have struggled to demonstrate their influence over policy.

Making coalition government work

Our One Year On report follows on from research conducted in summer 2010 into the first few months of the Coalition. In September 2010, we published United We Stand? Coalition Government in the UK, which presented the findings of this research, and made a number of practical recommendations to enable the machinery of government to operate more effectively and manage the challenges ahead.

In particular, we argued that Whitehall needed to adapt further to ensure that the Deputy Prime Minister was enabled to act as a joint leader of the Coalition as a whole, and that Liberal Democrats in other government departments could speak for their party across the whole of the departmental remit.

Our report was informed by interviews with Whitehall insiders, study of international coalitions, and the Making Coalition Government Work seminar series held at the Institute between May and July 2010.

Updates

In May 2012 we published a roundup of our research on coalition government in the UK to mark two years of the coalition. The roundup features a new blog from Akash Paun.

In January 2011 the Lords Library circulated a background briefing note to all peers on the lessons and challenges of the past eight months of coalition government (PDF, 464KB) in preparation for a debate on the 'constitutional and parliamentary effect of coalition government'. This paper drew heavily on our report.

Just before Christmas 2010, it was confirmed that work had commenced on a review of the Coalition's Programme for Government which would lead to new policy objectives being set out for the second half of this Parliament. This was Recommendation 1 in United We Stand.

In Dec 2010, another of our recommendations was implemented, when the government launched a new dedicated website for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, bringing together information on all of the DPM's activities (including in his capacity as lead minister for political and constitutional reform).