Working together

coalition governements
23 Mar 2015

What is the best way for parties to share power? How can you make minority government work? And how do you negotiate a successful coalition?


These are some of the questions likely to be at the forefront of the party leaders' minds over the next couple of months. As we near a General Election which is almost certain to produce a hung parliament, now is the perfect time to draw on politicians’ rich experience of power-sharing, both in the UK and across the world.


That's why we've brought together a group of senior politicians to share their experience of working in coalition and minority government, in a new report entitled Working Together: lessons in how to share power.


The report offers personal insights from British and overseas politicians on how to negotiate and manage power-sharing arrangements. There are contributions from:


  • Former whip and junior minister Jenny Willott giving candid insights into her experience of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Westminster coalition
  • Rhodri Morgan, former First Minister of Wales, sharing his recollections of negotiating with Plaid Cymru and how to deal with the internal party politics of coalition
  • Andrew Burns, leader of Edinburgh City Council, on his experiences leading Scotland’s only Labour/SNP coalition council
  • Former Treasury special adviser Julia Goldsworthy on the machinery of government and how to make coalition work in Whitehall
  • Former First Minister of Scotland Lord Jack McConnell discussing his time in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, demonstrating that coalition can be long-lasting and achieve real policy change
  • Former New Zealand Labour minister and ERS Deputy Chief Executive Darren Hughes on the different ways in which minority government can be made to work


There are also important contributions from abroad, including former Irish minister Ruairi Quinn, former Prime Minister of Lower Saxony David McAllister, and Professor Dennis Pilon of Canada.


Working Together offers five key lessons for party leaders in May:

  1. For 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. Parties 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


People's wishes have changed. In a poll by ComRes of the 40 most marginal Conservative-Labour constituencies (ie. the areas where the traditional two-party battle ought to be fiercest), we found that:


  • 78% believe the Opposition should work with the government on issues they agree on (against just 9% who support the opposite)
  • 54% believe Parliament works best when no party is too dominant so that cross-party agreement is needed to pass laws (against just 28% who support the opposite)


People want to see multiple parties competing for their votes, and then working together when they get to Westminster. Our new report offers tips and guidance on how to do just that.


Of course, the fact our broken voting system tries to cram people's varied wishes into a two-party framework can make the whole process of power-sharing seem far from transparent. If parties were able to negotiate based on the real wishes of voters and not the disproportionate results of First Past the Post, then coalition and minority government would have the legitimacy it needs. We badly need to get rid of our outdated electoral system.


But in the meantime, let's make sure parties are ready to work together after 7th May.


Read the full report here


And why not sign up for updates?


15 Responses to Working together

Adrian Godwin 24 Mar 2015

As someone who supported the Lib dem party in the last few elections, I will not vote again without reassurance that I will receive an honest outcome.

We ended up with a government that's Conservative in every respect that matters, and has worked to destroy any minor Lib dem input. The Lib dems, in turn, have allowed themselves to be used as a voting block without taking account of their lost influence.

This does not work and is dishonest. It is not Conservativism with Lib dem moderation as it was presented, and I would in any case have voted against that. If a government is formed without a majority mandate, it MUST discuss each and every policy decision in the open and obtain support in that context. I don't care if this is inconvenient. Anything else is fraud.

Any party wishing to create a fixed government by coagulating smaller units without reference to the voters supporting them should state that in their promotional material and stick to that policy.

There is much debate recently regarding how to attract a large vote, involve younger people etc. but the reality is staring you in the face. Nobody trusts politicians, and who wants to vote for a liar ?

Steven 24 Mar 2015

First Past The Post is now failing even on its supposed 'strenghs' ie the country having a stable, one-party 'strong' government with a clear mandate from the electorate. Sadly, this archaic system is also helping the SNP to split our country. It really is time we had another referendum to decide upon our voting system and THIS TIME we had an opportunity to discuss AT LEAST ONE if not more PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION systems and not another MAJORITARIAN system like the Alternative Vote scam/con. It's a shame that too many people think we had an opportunity for REAL electoral reform in 2011 but turned it down. The ERS and others need to inform people that we have NEVER had a referendum on REAL electoral reform ie PR.

I think we may need to engage in civil disobedience to force Labour and Tory to stop their self-seeking and selfish ways and give this country a chance to have a modern democracy with PR like Germany.

Simon Lowe 24 Mar 2015

Its not just about how they need to figure out power-sharing, its about FPTP being a totally defunct voting system for the modern world, with Cameron and Miliband both being arrogant, saying that ONLY THEY can be PM on May 8th. When you think the Tories are in power now on 25% after non-voters are taken into account. We need to scrap FPTP and replace it with something like PR, sadly, because it would meant them giving up power neither Labour or the Tories will do so voluntarily we will have to force them.

brian cave 24 Mar 2015

We need to make UK Workers Contracts of Employment, legally binding in UK law, they must be fair and just, this will stop all, hat is wrong in te workplace.
Companies would have to buy contracts back, as bankers football managers are??????? brian

Simon Norton 24 Mar 2015

As one who has usually voted Labour but who decided in 2010 that the Lib Dems were offering better policies I wholeheartedly agree with everything Adrian Godwin said above.

Could a Government of National Unity have been made to work, with Clegg as PM (as a party leader who would have antagonised fewer voters than Cameron or Brown) and based on the Lib Dem manifesto minus any measures which couldn't get a majority vote in parliament on a free vote of MPs ?

Incidentally, on the subject of electoral reform, and independently of any other measures, how about allowing people to cast a separate vote for the candidate they like best, with no need to consider tactical issues ? This might encourage people to stand who don't stand a chance of getting in but could win support from people who now think they're all as bad as one another.

Keith Chesterton 24 Mar 2015

A key point is adequate time is needed to prepare a proper agreement. Parties shouldn't be scared into rushing it by forecasts of a bad response by financial markets. Other countries manage without major problems & so can we. The LibDems were probably right to go go into coalition but not on the terms they agreed. They went into the election promising much less austerity based budgets but abandoned this without any concessions.

Labour nationally has to grow up & prepare for a whole set of possible strategies & work out what policies it wants to be its priorities & what can be negotiated differently. Yes, campaign for an overall majority & don't get distracted by publicly ruling in or out how to manage if it doesnt get one - but prepare.

Neil Freshwater 25 Mar 2015

Do you mean like in Scotland, where you have a constituency vote and regional vote (which typically splits to candidate vote and party vote)?

marg 25 Mar 2015

For sure we need the PR vote, bu I do believe that whilst any document serving to guide our government into understanding how to run a coalition is a bit premature as well as perhaps a tad patronising?

I do think other reforms are essential for democracy to survive. I would like to see unelected people such as Jeremy Heywood, for example, hold far less power to interfere with government decision than currently.

I also would like MP's and PM's to stop violating protocols set up to protect our democratic processes and punished for doing so. Blair took us to war by blurring such protocols thereby misleading us into illegality from a sofa style government with no notes taken at important meetings and his expenses suspiciously shredded. This should never be allowed.

It's all very well coming out with new consultation about protocols and guidance but as we have experienced already when these are ignored, blatantly disregarded or violated where to then?

I find it unfortunate that your number one guidance statement lists 'Common' and ''Purpose' in the same sentence, as many of us are aware of a rather unwanted and un voted for aim of David Bell/Julia Morley organisation 'Common Purpose.' Is this a subliminal linguistic indoctrination NLP process or are you really part of this movements agenda?

Adrian Godwin 25 Mar 2015

I agree FPTP isn't fit for purpose. But neither was the PR that was proposed (and failed) in the early days of the present coalition. I'm sad that FPTP survived that, but not sad that the LD's idea of reform failed.

You can't have a system that leaves the choice of politicians in the hands of politicians - they'll just choose the members that suit the party rather than the voters. What motivation do they have for anything else ?

In fact, you can't have a party-based PR system at all. The parties have no benefit to the electorate and exist only to support themselves and create or preserve power concentrations.

MPs aren't a homogeneous resource that can be partitioned out in proportion to votes, and the same goes for voters. They're all different, and should be encouraged to act on their morals, not on what will ensure they get party support for the next election.

A fair system has to recognise this and keep the power of selection - both for proportional and actual members - in the hands of the electorate. This seems most likely with an STV or related system.

Anthony Tuffin 9 Apr 2015

Adrian is absolutely right that we need STV (the ERS's prime aim) because it is proportional but does not increase the power of parties as other PR systenms do.  STV increases the power, and widens the choice, of voters.
Adrian made a couple of  mistakes.  AV, on which there was a referendum in 2011 is not a PR system and it was not the Liberal Democrats' idea.  They wanted STV.  AV was actually Labour's idea and the best that the Conseervatives would offer the Lib Dems.

Anthony Tuffin 9 Apr 2015

Adrian is absolutely right that we need STV (the ERS's prime aim) because it is proportional but does not increase the power of parties as other PR systems do.  STV increases the power, and widens the choice, of voters.
Adrian made a couple of  mistakes.  AV, on which there was a referendum in 2011 is not a PR system and it was not the Liberal Democrats' idea.  They wanted STV.  AV was actually Labour's idea and the best that the Conservatives would offer the Lib Dems.

Mike Falchikov 26 Mar 2015

Electoral reform is important, as is also sensible reforms to the currently ridiculous way Westminster operates. Above all, we must get rid of the "winner takes all" mentality which bedevils the major parties in election time. That has to come from the parties themselves, as does a relaxation of party discipline. It's fair enough to expect MPs to vote for measures that are in the parties' election manifesto, but that does't mean that perceptions of what is possible don't change over time and of course any government can be overtaken by "events,dear boy" (to quote Harold Macmillan). In such circumstances it was right to have a free vote over possible military action in Syria, for example. A word of warning to those looking for a Lab/SNP coalition. In the SNP you will be getting the most "whipped", obedient group of lobby-fodder in recent times - look at their performance in
the Scottish Parliament.

Steve 31 Mar 2015

Instead of MP's only forming alliances within parliament, why not have a way of MP's using surveys or petitions or referendums of over 50% to push for popular change.
If parliament objects, then have a full referendum.

Steve Lewis 31 Mar 2015

I read before the last election that 10 of the 12 coalitions around the world had Triple A ratings. The UK got it back last June I think. Surely it's a no-brainer to run a country with proportional representation. It's the media and what i call 'lazy' jounalism that perpetuates this Punch and Judy politics. It started with Margret Thatcher guided by clever ad men who imported it from the US. I hope this election brings PR ever closer.

Demo Rep 4 Apr 2015

Party Seats = Party Votes x Total Seats / Total Votes.

Exact math would have each Winner having a voting power equal to the final votes he/she gets (direct from voters and from losing candidates via public pre-election candidate rank order lists).

Separate NONPARTISAN elections for elected executive officers [Prime Minister, mayors, etc.] and all judges.
NO executive/judicial officer having any legislative power.

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