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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22 Responses to “How to form a successful coalition government”

  1. robertcp

    I have many disagreements with our current government but it has proved that coalitions can work. It provided stable government during a very difficult period for the UK.

  2. littleoddsandpieces

    The real changed political landscape that will ensure we do not need a second general election, is for the parties of the poor to be given equal media coverage as the big parties, that are now small as cannot form a majority government in UK parliament.

    Never again will ONE OR EVEN TWO PARTY UK GOVERNMENT be anything other than a most severe hung UK parliament.

    A multi party coalition works well throughout Europe and this needs to be done in the UK now, as most voters are lost the election process for life today, of all ages.


    TRADE UNIONIST AND SOCIALIST COALITION (TUSC) is actually a single party of ex Labour MP and councillors who left or were sacked from labour party for being anti austerity, as well as trade union officials against auterity cuts.

    Cornwall has single figure marginals.
    MK is running in all of Cornwall

    Running for the first time
    Great to bring in the poor youth vote

    The poor will not vote Labour and so those tens of millions of votes lost.

    Labour’s vote is only middle class earning£20,000 – £40,000 a year.

    Scotland SNP’s and Plaid Cymru are more naturall allies to Labour.

    SMNP and Plaid Cymru are offering a support and confidence type of coalition with Labour.

    This is how coalitions are done in Europe, with each party keeping its own identity.


    This group of parties could reach the threshold of 323 MPs and above, if only all the huge number of poor voters, that now outnumber all other voters, especially in England, could have parties to vote for.

    Info / logoso / links to ensure registered to vote at:

  3. Leon Wolfeson

    Step 1: Don’t have FPTP, as you already have coalitions.

    So what you get is the unwieldy marriage of two coalitions, rather than what would be understood as “Parties” under PR voting systems.

    Also, the LibDems who signed a pledge than broke their word on tuition fees? Stop making excuses. you lied. Plain and simple.

  4. Guest

    It has caused an ongoing financial disaster and has made things far worse, creating instability and showing FPTP is a problem.

  5. Gary Scott

    Systems in Britain are, at the moment, turned on their head. Coalition in a FPTP setup and in Holyrood, specifically designed to prevent majorities, has a majority. At the last election Labour suffered the consequences of being in power when a recession hit. Despite this, enough trusted Brown et al to stop the Tories winning. Previous Labour voters only went as far as the LibDems. This time its far different. The coalition has had five full years to improve things. Failed. They knew the time and date of the election, plenty of time to plan out their next term and announce a raft of policies. Failed. Coalition is nearly impossible, LibDems have burned their bridges with their own supporters. The challenge for the next parliament is to see which party can make some kind of alliance to form government. Labour could link with LibDems but frankly there aren’t going to be enough of them. Ed will have a straight choice, cut some kind of deal with SNP or explain to the Labour voters why he refused to take government allied to another left wing party.

  6. Gary Scott

    I hope that an agreement of this type goes ahead and pulls Labour back into being the people’s party.

  7. Gary Scott

    FPTP has already had problems, the seventies were a nightmare. From 1979 to 2010 things were clear cut. The difference this time is the emergence of new players threatening the big two. If this was in a business context it’d be TESCO Vs Saintsbury with Lidl and Also coming in and taking all their customers.

  8. robertcp

    I agree with this, although people keep on saying that the election systems in Scotland and Wales were designed to prevent majorities. They are semi-proportional and mean that majorities are possible, for example, the SNP got less than 50% of the vote in 2011.

  9. robertcp

    As I said, I have many disagreements with the coalition but the situation is not as bad as you describe. The deficit is lower than it was in 2010 for example.

  10. uglyfatbloke

    The Scottish system was not chosen to prevent majorities – it was chosen to prevent the gnats becoming the largest party; McConnell and Wallace told us so at the time and since they chose it we should take them at their word. The assumption (which as not unreasonable at the time) was that Labour and the Lib-Dems would always have very strong regional strength in the central Belt and the North East which would give them almost all of the FPTP seats (mostly Labour) and that the smaller number of list seats would be split between the tories, the gnats, Labour, Lib-Dems, Greens and SSP.

  11. uglyfatbloke


  12. Leon Wolfeson

    Your post is plain nonsense, because it suggest Labour are left wing.

  13. Guest

    The situation is catastrophic. Poverty is up, wages are down, the deficit is cut only because essential spending has been slashed and there’s a bubble in the city. And they’ll need to make ever-bigger cuts to even hold the deficit steady.

    That’s what you’re defending!

  14. Leon Wolfeson

    The “new players” might get a handful of seats.

  15. robertcp

    It is not catastropic. Unlike you and the Tories, I do not think that ever-bigger cuts are needed.

  16. robertcp

    Thanks for the explanation.

  17. Guest

    You’re now accusing me of random nonsense, Lord Blagger.

    I understand you want zero spending, I want higher spending – especially since inflation is zero.

  18. robertcp

    Your exact words were “they’ll need to make ever-bigger cuts”.

  19. Guest

    I am talking about your and the Tories path of austerity, of course. Which will require ever-bigger cuts. You’re defending it, hence you DO think ever-bigger cuts will be required. Or are you saying that, oh, we’ll just slash the NHS entirely?

    I want spending, not austerity. Not cutting the poor in the first place! Put the knife down!

  20. robertcp

    I do not think that ever-bigger cuts are needed.

  21. Guest

    So you’re changing your mind on austerity? I see.

  22. robertcp


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