German Politics Specialist Group (GPSG) and Liberals and Liberalism Specialist Group of the UK Political Studies Association (PSA).
Organised in partnership with the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster.
Organisers: Patricia Hogwood, Thom Oliver and Jonathan Kirkup.

Key Speakers

UK: Professor Robert Hazell, Director of The Constitution Unit, University College London.
Germany: Dr Christian Schweiger, Durham University.

In 2010 the UK Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats broke a post-war constitutional taboo with the publication of their government programme ‘The Coalition: Our Programme for Government’, establishing a full cabinet coalition. In the run-up to the first fixed-term parliamentary election of 7 May 2015, this conference examines how the UK coalition government compares with the experience in Germany, where coalition has been the norm since the introduction of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in 1949.

There is an interesting normative divide in perceptions of coalition in Germany and the UK. In Germany, although coalition practices at sub-national level have sometimes been associated with corruption (eg, the notorious Kölner Klüngel (Cologne Clique)), at national level a coalition government has generally been positively evaluated. Voters have even been known to vote tactically to ensure a second party presence in government as a ‘brake’ on single-party domination or as the government’s ‘conscience’. The conference will address the roots of these normative preferences in the constitutional history and collective memories of the two countries and will evaluate the degree to which such preconceptions persist.

UK parties stand to learn a lot from German parties’ experience of the nuts and bolts of coalition formation. The conference will share the wide-ranging and sophisticated conventions that have been developed in Germany to guide every stage of the process, including: establishing internal party preferences, negotiating teams and ‘red lines’; etiquette in approaches to other parties; negotiating strategy and tactics; setting terms for a formal contract; and institutional coordinating mechanisms. In contrast, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition launched with no relevant peacetime precedent. The conference will consider whether the experiments in coalition negotiation undertaken by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition are likely to become entrenched and also evaluate the extent to which the German model can help UK coalition participants to avoid unintended outcomes.

The conference will compare German and UK experiences on government coalition in practice, including the impacts of coalition on policy processes and outcomes; the role of coordinating institutions in maintaining government coalitions; and impacts on intra-party relations and communication with the party membership and wider public. Themes under discussion will include the perennial problem of how to disengage successfully from a government coalition as the next election approaches; and what are the costs and benefits of coalition both for participating parties and for those excluded from a government coalition.

More theoretical considerations will include an evaluation of existing theories of coalition formation and durability in the context of German and UK coalition governments; the implications of coalition for democratic governance; the implications of national coalition government for EU membership; and the leadership legacy of coalition government.

Contact Dr Patricia Hogwood for further information.