Traditionally ‘British government’, or at least that part of it which is conventionally known as ‘Whitehall’, has been seen as centralised, powerhoarding, majoritarian and hierarchical – characteristics reinforced by a long line of single-party majority administrations. So when David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives, issued his ‘big, open and comprehensive offer’ of coalition government to the Liberal Democrats (henceforth Lib Dems) following the May 2010 general election, it could be seen as much of a challenge to Whitehall’s way of doing things as it was to Westminster’s. With power shared between two parties, could things really work – should they really work – the way they had for decades? Would coalition lead to more consultation and perhaps, therefore, to policy based more on evidence than ideology? Or would it be one long tale of disruption, dither and instability? In practice, both the positive and the negative possibilities brought about by coalition turned out to be exaggerated. The 2010–2015 experience has demonstrated that it is perfectly possible to run a coalition at the national level without decisions being unduly delayed or contested. In spite of persistent media reports of ‘crisis’ and ‘splits’, the coalition was in fact remarkably stable both in Westminster and Whitehall. But coalition government did not remedy the purported weaknesses of the latter.
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