Working to make government more effective


United we stand?: Coalition government in the UK

Our new report makes recommendations to enable the machinery of government to operate more effectively for coalitions.

The UK is governed by a coalition with a dual leadership. The systems supporting this have had to adapt quickly. Many important changes to the process of government have already occurred. But more change is needed to ensure it can function effectively as it negotiates the difficult hurdles ahead.

Having dual leadership imposes a particular set of demands. International experience shows that policy disputes, particularly over finance, are the most common cause of the demise of coalitions, and the structures and processes set up to support the coalition will be a crucial determinant of success.

Our report, United We Stand? Coalition Government in the UK makes practical recommendations to enable the machinery of government to operate more effectively and manage the challenges ahead.

At the Centre

The UK has not had a Deputy Prime Minister (DPM), with the responsibilities Nick Clegg has, since Clement Atlee in 1942. The DPM needs the resource to handle the sheer amount of day-to-day policy information.

Balance between the two parties must also be maintained through the rest of government to ensure that both sides are able to influence key decisions and to mitigate the risks of tensions.

This does not imply a 50-50 division of power between the two parties, but it does probably require a degree of over-representation for the smaller party, as is normal in other countries.

Update: Shortly after the Institute’s report was published, it was decided that the Deputy Prime Minister’s team was to be strengthened, directly in line with our recommendation in United We Stand.

In departments

The smaller party in a coalition also needs to be better supported in departments. The Liberal Democrats are slightly over-represented in Cabinet in comparison with their share of seats in Parliament, but they control few major departments.

As non-Cabinet attending ministers, it should be recognised that the junior minister from the smaller party is also the Liberal Democrat voice and eyes scanning the whole Department's remit.

Despite pledges to reduce the number of special advisers, in a coalition the circumstances require additional political support for Ministers of State.

In three major departments there are no Liberal Democrat ministers or advisers at all. In these Conservative-led departments steps must be taken to ensure that the views of the smaller party are taken into account.

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