By Matthew Barrett
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A new report (pdf) released today by the Institute for Government recommends a new Coalition Agreement-style document to reinvigorate the government for the second half of this Parliament. The new "renewal plan" would set out objectives and priorities for the remainder of the term, and would help the parties in government work more effectively, the Institute’s report - "A game of two halves – how coalition governments renew in mid-term and last the full term" – says. The report is based on interviews with figures in Westminster and Whitehall and in countries where coalitions are common.
International research confirms that all governments struggle with mid-term renewal, but the challenge is even greater for coalitions. The Institute for Government – a think-tank which focuses on the civil service's role in government – warns that Britain's civil servants should plan for a minority government towards the final months of the Coalition, as the parties in government will be trying to distinguish themselves from the Coalition, and may cause a breakdown in relations between the two parties.
A new plan, apart from renewing the Coalition, would be able to take stock of new realities. Some policies of the Government, such as Lords reform, have been opposed by backbenchers on the grounds that they are not in the Coalition Agreement. An updated document would be able to include new economic measures, to take into account the progressively worsening situation in the €urozone. The Institute for Government argues that the new plan would:
- Clarify ambiguous policies in the Coalition Agreement
- Be open about which policies have been amended or dropped since 2010
- Develop a clearer link between policy objectives and the funding allocated from the Budget to pay for them
- Articulate the Coalition’s big objectives for the second half of the Parliament, and set out how the specific planned policies will help to achieve them
- Urge the government to think for the long-term, post-2015 political landscape
Akash Paun, the main author of the report, said:
“Those who argue that ‘all governments are coalitions’ and that resolving differences between competing ministers is nothing new miss an important point. The natural cycle of a multi-party government is that centrifugal forces from within the parties will exercise a growing pull on the leaders to disengage and to assert themselves more in dealings with the other side. A stronger emphasis on party identity is sensible, but at the same time, the two sides need to come together to reaffirm what they are in government to achieve, to reach compromise on the big issues, and to trade off on a few flagship policies for either side. The alternative may be a government that increasingly drifts in the wind.”