The outcome of the general election will be more complicated than the 2010 coalition due to a different political landscape, Peter Riddell has said.
Speaking at a UCL Constitution Unit yesterday, the Institute for Government director warned that “fragmentation of the party system” means there is unlikely to be a clear majority or coalition deal.
“Apart from a grand coalition, which I think is highly improbable, Tory plus Lib Dem [or] Labour plus Lib Dem may not be sufficient,” he said.
Post-election agreements are therefore likely to focus more on producing a detailed programme of government – with input from “the Treasury, the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health” – before agreeing any deals, Riddell said.
This is in contrast to the 2010 coalition talks, which focused on securing a government and then publishing a programme of government eight days later, he added.
“My hunch is that the talks will be more focused on producing a programme of government at that stage,” Riddell said, likening the process to German coalition negotiations, which often take “five to six weeks”.
“Even when it’s politically clear what the political combination is going to be, it will take longer to get something more detailed.”
Ambiguous civil service role
The IfG director also said that the role of the civil service in any post-election talks remained ambiguous.
He said that while the civil service offers support to negotiating parties and answers any factual questions, it is unclear what civil servants will have to do.
“The civil service offer is to provide logistic support if necessary [and to] answer factual questions. Now, what is a factual question? It sounds straight forward, but equally [there are] ambiguities on that. Also, if you are asked by one party in negotiation a factual question, do you tell the other parties?”
In response to a CSW question on whether there was scope to clarify the role of civil servants in the Cabinet Manual, Riddell said that each manual is based on “the light of experience”, and suggested that the 2015 experience will influence the next Cabinet Manual.
Fellow panellist Professor Robert Hazell, director of UCL’s Constitution Unit , added that the Cabinet Manual should only be updated every “two to three administrations”.
“The precedent is the New Zealand Cabinet Manual, which they have had now for almost forty years. In New Zealand they don’t bring out a new edition with every new government, but they bring out a new edition about every two to three administrations,” he said.
“I hope that we will update it in that kind of way, fairly regularly but not [having] every new government feeling it has got to produce a new [one].”