For the civil service, preparation for a variety of outcomes occupied them for many months. For the political parties, the preparation for the election was even longer.

The quality and focus of these preparations, and how well they handled the result, provide valuable and timely lessons, however long the current coalition last and whatever the outcome of the next general election.


In November 2009 the Institute for Government published Transitions: Preparing for Changes of Government. This study looked at past general elections in the UK, and at procedures in comparable democracies abroad, in the devolved administrations, and at local government level.

Our report:

  • provided a range of advice on how different actors could and should prepare for elections
  • highlighted potential pitfalls
  • made recommendations for changes to procedure.

One of the most striking conclusions was that long periods of single-party majority rule had affected the collective memory of both politicians and officials. Now, with the experience still fresh and yet the immediate drama of the election passed, recording and retaining these lessons is crucial.

At the same time, the conclusions and recommendations of the original Transitions report were themselves tested by the outcome, and the unexpected formation of the coalition. Now is the time to re-examine these and consider what further thinking or changes may be required.

Follow-up report

In November 2011 we produced a follow-up report that covered many of the same themes from Transitions: Preparing for Changes of Government.

The 2009 Transitions report looked back at previous elections in the UK and internationally to consider lessons for the preparation and process of a change of government. Though it covered issues that were of relevance to the May 2010 election and made recommendations of immediate concern, it deliberately avoided commentary on the preparations then underway. It was intended that the election itself should be re-visited post-election, after a suitable hiatus. This has now been published as Transitions: Lesson Learned

The reasoning behind this was twofold:

  • to reflect on how well the whole process went measured against the criteria identified in the original report, and therefore aid collective memory for future elections
  • to consider whether there were issues or recommendations that were missed in the original report that have now been brought to light (or any that should be changed).

In preparing the Lessons Learned report it was also apparent that the 2010 election, the Coalition government and the Fixed-Term Parliament Bill would all mean that some new factors would also have to be considered by the Civil Service and political parties in the run up to 2015. These are also set out in the report.

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