The coalition negotiations that took place in 2010 could seem a “piece of cake” compared to what is likely to happen following the May election, Lord Gus O’Donnell has said.
The former cabinet secretary – who was heavily involved in the five days of negotiations in 2010 – warned that any talks this year were likely to take longer, with Whitehall having to prepare for a wider range of options.
“Within the civil service my successor Sir Jeremy Heywood will be starting off with predictions so they will be preparing for all sorts of options,” he told the Today programme.
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“What you are trying to do is to get to a stable, effective government. Where Sir Jeremy will be getting to now is not so much thinking about what options there might be, but for each option: how do we turn that into effective government? So they will be studying processes and tactics from the past,” said O’Donnell.
Options facing the political parties following May's vote could include minority government, a coalition between the largest party and the second largest party, or an informal 'confidence and supply deal', in which a smaller party is given concessions in exchange for supporting a budget and a Queen’s speech.
O'Donnell said the civil service would also be thinking about how to manage government in order to avoid going to parliament "too often" with "very contentious votes".
He added: “So instead of legislation can you have other ways of doing things? We might have fewer laws – if they are fewer, better thought through, better legislated it could be good.”