How to form a successful coalition government

With a hung parliament looking likely, a new report brings together advice from experts on how to make power-sharing work for the public


With a hung parliament looking ever more likely, the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) have released a report that brings together senior politicians’ experience of power-sharing arrangements.

A recent survey by the ERS suggested that the public feel favourably towards power-sharing deals. In areas where there has traditionally been a fierce two -party battle, 54 per cent said they believe parliament works best when no party is too dominant so that cross-party agreement is needed to pass laws. 51 per cent said it is better to have several smaller parties than two big parties, and 50 per cent believe the era of two parties dominating British politics is over.

The report includes extracts from an interview with Jenny Willott, the Lib Dem MP for Cardiff Central. She describes the challenges that have faced the Lib Dems in the current coalition arrangement:

“Tuition fees are the prime example. I was critical of the plan to support the government on tuition fees but I lost the argument. Part of the problem was that we were inexperienced – the tuition fees saga happened very early on, within the first six months, when people were still finding their feet in coalition and still trying to get used to how it worked.

“There was still a genuine fear that the government might fall if the Lib Dems disagreed with the Tories too openly and too vocally.

“If it had happened a year later, perhaps it wouldn’t have happened the way it did; I’m sure there would have been more visible disagreement between the parties up front, and more of a compromise.

“I think it was a massive problem for the Lib Dems that the first visible disagreement was on such a key issue for the party. The timing was poor.”

So how do politicians form a successful coalition? ‘Working Together offers five key lessons for party leaders in May:

1. For a coalition to work, there needs to be a common sense of purpose – clear aims and a united vision for what the parties want to achieve together

2. It takes time to negotiate. Deciding how to govern a country is not something that should be rushed. And sometimes, the longer it takes, the better the outcomes

3.  need to sign off on any power-sharing arrangement if it is going to achieve legitimacy. This can take the form of special conferences or other means of gaining party members’ assent

4. Power-sharing comes in numerous forms. Each nation can develop models of coalition or minority government which fit with their own political culture     

5. Coalitions aren’t easy. They need constant dialogue, good personal relationships between protagonists and mechanisms for resolving disputes if they are going to work

Andrew Burns, the Labour leader of Edinburgh City Council, Scotland’s only Labour/SNP coalition, also contributes to the report. He says:

“Now more than ever, I see genuine cooperation being at the forefront of innovative partnership working across sectors, tackling the serious challenges that lie ahead together, and rebuilding voters’ trust in local democracy.”

After May it is likely that this kind of innovation will be more necessary than ever, as the new government finds its feet in a changed political landscape.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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