Lessons from the process of government formation after the 2010 general election - Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Professor Robert Blackburn, King's College London

Professor Blackburn is Professor of Constitutional Law, and Director of the Centre for Political and Constitutional Studies at King's College London.


  1.  Earlier this month I forwarded to the Committee my article, The 2010 General Election Outcome and Formation of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government, giving a history and constitutional analysis of the five days in May, when the outcome of the election was uncertain and negotiations were taking place between the political parties on the formation of the new government. In this written evidence, I offer some thoughts on the political circumstances and constitutional framework within which the events of May 2010 took place and the implications of what happened. My aim is to help inform the Committee's deliberations and contribute to their lines of inquiry on the lessons to be learnt from what occurred.


  2.  The UK system of parliamentary government is majoritarian in culture. Generally under our simple plurality voting system, there is an overall majority in the House of Commons for one party, giving its leader the right to enter 10 Downing Street. Therefore, the fact of the hung Parliament and the coalition it produced is of considerable political and historical significance, and what happened in May 2010 will serve to mould ideas and expectations about the future.

  3.  It is almost 80 years since the last peace-time coalition was formed, and it is 65 years since the end of Winston Churchill's coalition formed for the purposes of fighting the Second World War. It is the only coalition government to have been appointed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

  4.  The arithmetic of the 2010 election result could hardly have thrown up a more difficult political and constitutional equation for the parties to deal with.

(a)(b) Votes (000s) (c) % vote(d) Seats won
(e) Conservative (f) 10,703,744 (g) 36.1(h) 306
(i) Labour (j) 8,606,518 (k) 29.0(l) 258
(m) Liberal Democrats (n) 6,836,198 (o) 23.0(p) 57
(q) SNP (r) 491,386 (s) 1.7(t) 6
(u) Green (v) 284,823 (w) 1.0(x) 1
(y) Independent (z) 229,021 (aa) 0.8(bb) 1
(cc) Sinn Fein (dd) 171,942 (ee) 0.6(ff) 5
(gg) Democratic Unionist (hh) 168,216 (ii) 0.6(jj) 8
(kk) Plaid Cymru (ll) 165,394 (mm) 0.6(nn) 3
(oo) SDLP (pp) 110,970 (qq) 0.4(rr) 3
(ss) Alliance (tt) 42,762 (uu) 0.1(vv) 1
(ww) Speaker (xx) 22,860 (yy) 0.1(zz) 1

  5.  This hung Parliament was of a markedly different nature to the previous occasion in February 1974, where the two main parties were virtually even—the Conservative government gaining 297 seats, to Labour's 201—with the Liberals fielding a very small band of MPs, just 14. In 1974, because there were 23 other MPs (7 SNP, 2 Plaid Cymru, 12 members for Northern Ireland constituencies, and two independent Labour MPs), the Liberals could not offer either the Conservatives or Labour an overall working majority.

6.  In 2010, by contrast, the Liberal Democrats were fielding a much larger parliamentary team of 57 seats. A figure of 326 parliamentary seats was needed for an overall majority, leaving the largest party, the Conservatives, 20 short. If the Liberal Democrats entered into an arrangement with Labour (the party with which they had the closer ideological affinity), their combined voting power in the Commons was greater than that of the Conservatives, 315 to 306. This would leave the regional and other Members holding the balance of power, though the Green and SDLP Members could be expected to vote with Labour, and the Unionists with the Conservatives. The SNP and Plaid Cymru Members would generally support Labour too, so pressures behind a "rainbow" or "progressive" alliance behind Labour remaining in office was certainly feasible.

  7.  The state of public opinion on events in May 2010 came against a backdrop of popular disengagement from politics, ambivalence over voting intentions, and a strong expectation that there would be a "hung" Parliament. Yet precisely what were the rules on government formation in situations of no single party gaining an overall majority in the House of Commons was the subject of widespread confusion and misunderstanding in the country and the media. In some respects this was aggravated by the Cabinet Secretary initiating novel procedures and ideas about government formation.

  8.  Popular expectation in the UK is that the transition of government after polling day is swift. In normal conditions the Prime Minister's resignation and appointment of the opposition leader as successor takes place at Buckingham Palace the next morning, immediately followed by the new premier entering 10 Downing Street, minutes after the outgoing Prime Minister has left the premises with furniture vans by the back door. But in May 2010 no such immediate climax occurred, leaving the 24 hour mass media and country in a state of suspense over five days, Friday 7th to Tuesday 11th May. The 24 hour news media, a political fact of life since the 1990s, added to the sense of national drama and pressure on resolution on who would be Prime Minister.

  9.  A feature throughout this period was the intense confidentiality surrounding the communications and meetings between participants. There were virtually no off the record briefings to the media about the substance of the meetings or how the negotiations were going, in contrast to the normal state of affairs where the media and politics are closely intertwined. The only politicians actively involved in the negotiations who talked at all to the media beyond the formal statements or public utterances outside the Cabinet Office or other inter-party meeting places were on the Labour side.

  10.  A final observation to be made of the pressures wrought by public opinion and the media on government formation in 2010 relates to the televised party leaders' debates, the first ever of their kind in the UK. Presidential in character, these high profile events served to invest the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg with a far higher public profile and popularity. This will have been a key factor in David Cameron's decision to embrace him as Deputy Prime Minister in the coalition. Indeed, so personal is Mr Clegg to the formation of the coalition government that no provision has been made in the coalition documents, discussed below, for the appointment of a new or different Deputy Prime Minister in the event that Mr Clegg resigned, died, or was deselected as Liberal Democrat Leader.


  11.  The UK has a traditional constitution, where historical precedent tends to guide future conduct, particularly in areas where the legal basis for executive action—including government formation and prime ministerial appointment—is the royal prerogative. Therefore prior to the 2010 election a consideration of the events of February 1974, the last occasion when an electoral outcome produced no overall majority, was one way of answering the question of what were the constitutional rules under a hung Parliament in 2010.

  12.  A summary of what happened in February 1974 is as follows. The incumbent Prime Minister leading a Conservative government was Edward Heath, and the result of polling day on February 28, 1974, in terms of parliamentary seats won, had been Labour 301, Conservative 297, Liberal 14, SNP 7, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 12, Others 2. So no party had won an overall majority, and any Labour claim to have the strongest mandate was offset by the fact that the Conservatives nationally won almost 300,000 more votes than Labour, or a 37.9% share of the total vote compared to Labour's 37.1%.

  13.  Mr Heath chose to remain in office over the weekend, and proceeded to attempt to form an agreement with the Liberal Leader Jeremy Thorpe that would sustain him in government. He had meetings with Mr Thorpe at 10 Downing Street on the Saturday at 4.00 pm and on the Sunday at 10.30 pm, and indicated his preference for a coalition, with Mr Thorpe being offered a seat in Cabinet. Any possible deal foundered, however, after meetings of the Liberal parliamentary party and the Conservative Cabinet on the Monday morning, with Mr Thorpe's Liberal colleagues refusing to support any deal without a commitment from Mr Heath to enact proportional representation, and the Conservative Cabinet being unwilling to go further than offer a Speaker's Conference on electoral reform. On Monday early evening, Mr Heath visited the Queen at Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation, and Harold Wilson was invited to form his third Labour administration.

  14.  Reflecting on the process that had been followed, Mr Heath in his memoirs expressed the view, "I had a clear constitutional duty to see if I was best placed to carry on that responsibility". Rumblings of Labour disquiet and murmurings of unconstitutional conduct had emanated from some quarters in the Labour Party, but the Opposition Leader, Harold Wilson, was content with Mr Heath's position. At Mr Wilson's meeting with the Labour parliamentary committee on the Friday, it was, "resolved that none of us would make any news comment, claim or forecast over the weekend. The Conservatives still formed the Government. They had to decide whether to resign or seek to carry on."

  15.  Stated as simply as possible, the constitutional conventions on government formation (including in situations of a hung Parliament) were and are, firstly, that the incumbent Prime Minister has the first opportunity to continue in office and form an administration; secondly, that if he is unable to do so (and resigns, or is defeated on the Address or in a no confidence motion at the meeting of the new Parliament) then the Leader of the Opposition is appointed Prime Minister; and thirdly, it is for the political parties to negotiate any inter-party agreement for government among themselves without royal involvement. This is precisely what happened in 2010, as indeed it had happened previously in February 1974.

  16.  During the year preceding the election in 2010, a few constitutional specialists, including myself, explained this constitutional framework in a variety of publications and sessions with the press. Thus in my letter to The Times on 28 November 2009, I wrote:


    If there is a hung Parliament after the next general election, there will be no constitutional crisis (Daniel Finkelstein, "How to stop the Queen picking the next Prime Minister", Opinion, Nov 25; and Mark Oaten MP, "We must head off the possible constitutional crisis if the result of the next election is close", Letter, Nov 27).

    There is already in existence an established procedure and basis for the resolution of who will be Prime Minister after a general election that produces a House of Commons with no overall majority for a single party. If this occurs after the 2010 election, the situation will be:

    — The incumbent Prime Minister has the first opportunity to continue in office and form an administration.

    — If he is unable to do so (and resigns, or is defeated on the Address at the meeting of the new Parliament), then the Leader of the Opposition is appointed Prime Minister.

    ... If no single party obtains an overall majority at the election, Gordon Brown is entitled to see if he can remain in office with the support of the Liberal Democrats to ward off a defeat on the Address (or no confidence motion) at the first meeting of the new Parliament. He would, of course, enter into talks about agreeing to implement some Liberal Democrat policies such as constitutional and voting reform as the price of survival in office.

    But if, as the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg suggested in a BBC interview (Andrew Marr Show) last Sunday, the Liberal Democrats only wish to negotiate with the party which received "the strongest mandate" at the election (it was ambiguous as to whether he meant more seats won or more national votes cast), Mr Clegg will indeed be in a position to force Mr Brown to resign and allow David Cameron into 10 Downing Street.

    Robert Blackburn

    Professor of Constitutional Law, King's College London

  Similarly, the constitutional position was set out in a widely distributed pamphlet co-authored by myself, a senior member of the Hansard Society, and two members of the House of Commons Library.

  17.  An important distinction to be drawn in interpreting the constitutional conventions on hung Parliaments is to realise that the right of an incumbent Prime Minister to remain in office and attempt to form a working Commons majority with others outside his party, does not mean or translate into a constitutional obligation upon third parties to do a deal with the incumbent Prime Minister or even to enter into any negotiations with him and his party. In other words, in 2010 it was open to Gordon Brown as incumbent Prime Minister to make overtures, but it was for the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg to decide with whom he would forge an agreement for government.

  18.  In this context, the public statement made by Nick Clegg in a television interview on 22 November 2009 that he would regard the party with "the strongest mandate" as having won the election and therefore the one with which he would enter into negotiations first, was a highly significant political development, and indeed a portent for how the election outcome would eventually unfold in terms of the negotiations between the parties during the five days of 7th and 12th May. The emphatic way in which the Liberal Democrat leader presented his view to the public, later characterised as "the Clegg doctrine", went as follows:

    Andrew Marr: Can I ask you about the opinion poll this morning, which suggests that we may be closer to a hung parliament than we all thought. Is your position that it would be the sort of morally right thing, if there was that condition, to back the party which got the biggest number of seats or votes, or what? ... I'm asking about your sort of philosophical approach to a situation where nobody had an overall majority| Would you feel it was the right thing to offer your support first to the party which had done best?

    Nick Clegg: Oh, I think it's just an inevitable fact, it's just stating the obvious, that the party which has got the strongest mandate from the British people will have the first right to seek to govern either on its own or reach a ...

    Andrew Marr: Well that's not, that's not been the case in the past|Ted Heath, for instance, as you know, discussed with the Liberal Democrats first before throwing in the towel. So we could have a situation where Gordon Brown was coming to you and saying ...

    Nick Clegg: No, I start from a very simple first principle. It's not Gordon Brown or David Cameron or Nick Clegg, who are sort of kingmakers in British politics. It is the British people. So the votes of the British people should determine what happens afterwards. You know that is what should happen in a democracy ... It's whichever party—whether it's the Liberal Democrats, Labour or the Conservatives—have the strongest mandate from the British people. It seems to me obvious in a democracy, they have the first right to seek to try and govern either on their own or with others.


  19.  Shortly before the 2010 election, the Cabinet Secretary started to prepare a Cabinet Manual describing the structure and operation of central government, including a chapter on electoral outcomes. A draft form of this chapter was shown to the House of Commons Justice Committee as evidence in its short inquiry into constitutional processes following a general election, and its content was discussed with the Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell at an evidence session held on 24 February 2010.

  20.  On hung Parliaments, the draft Manual reads,

Where an election does not result in a clear majority for a single party, the incumbent Government remains in office unless and until the Prime Minister tenders his and the Government's resignation to the Monarch. An incumbent Government is entitled to await the meeting of the new Parliament to see if it can command the confidence of the House of Commons or to resign if it becomes clear that it is unlikely to command that confidence. If a Government is defeated on a motion of confidence in the House of Commons, a Prime Minister is expected to tender the Government's resignation immediately ...

  21.  However it appeared from other parts of the draft Manual, and became clear during the Cabinet Secretary's evidence session with the Justice Committee, that a major purpose lying behind the new draft Manual was not simply to describe existing convention but to create new expectations and processes.

  22.  The first change in conventional practice desired by the Cabinet Secretary was to establish and extend the principle of a "caretaker" prime minister and government. Currently, between the public announcement of an election and polling day, a period of "purdah" has been said to exist, when the government will refrain from initiating any significant new government policy, executive action, or expenditure of public money, particularly if it represents a commitment that will bind the post-election government. Its democratic logic is essentially one of fairness: that a popular act could be seen as stealing an advantage over the other parties; and particularly if a change of government is in prospect, the decision is rightly one for the new government to take.

  23.  The Cabinet Secretary told the Commons Justice Committee that he wished to now extend this "discretion" on the part of a government into the post-election period "when we do not have a stable government". This would include any period of inter-party negotiation, as in fact occurred between 7 and 11 May 2010, and could extend considerably further, not just until the meeting of the new Parliament and Queen's Speech, but arguably for several months thereafter if a minority government's position in the House of Commons was considered politically fragile with a real possibility of losing a confidence motion or a second general election being called.

  24.  The new principle drafted on Sir Gus O'Donnell's instruction for the draft Cabinet Manual was, As long as there is significant doubt whether the Government has the confidence of the House of Commons, it would be prudent for it to observe discretion about taking significant decisions, as per the pre-election period. The normal and essential business of government at all levels, however, will need to be carried on.

  25.  The second change sought by the Cabinet Secretary was for the civil service to take over the hosting of any post-election inter-party negotiations. The draft Cabinet Manual included a paragraph stating:

    It is open to the Prime Minister to ask the Cabinet Secretary to support the Government's discussions with Opposition or minority parties on the formation of a government. If Opposition parties request similar support for their discussions with each other or with the Government, this can be provided by the Cabinet Office with the authorisation of the Prime Minister.

    The precise details on the nature of support envisaged were unclear at the time the draft Manual was shown to the Justice Committee, with Sir Gus O'Donnell agreeing in discussions with members of the Committee that, "we have some quite difficult practical issues to sort out as to how we make this work".

  26.  During the five days in May, the actual support given by civil servants from the Cabinet Office appears to have consisted of making a room available at 70 Whitehall for the Conservative-Liberal Democrat talks and serving sandwich refreshments. It is thought there may have been one civil service intervention from the Treasury in giving some factual background information. No support appears to have been given for the Labour-Liberal Democrat talks, which were held in the House of Commons, although it is believed the Permanent Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office made his office available for the private meeting held between Mr Brown and Mr Clegg during the afternoon of Sunday 9 May.

  27.  One net consequence of the Cabinet Secretary's initiative was to remove 10 Downing Street as the forum for the incumbent Prime Minister's talks with the third party, as Mr Heath had had in 1974, as well as the regional parties. Some claim the Prime Minister thereby lost a valuable psychological advantage in terms of maintaining initiative and momentum over events.

  28.  The Committee may now wish to establish from the Cabinet Office:

    — the precise details of its support given to the negotiations;

    — what instructions were issued by the Cabinet Secretary to his staff on the matter;

    — what requests were made by members of the negotiating teams in all three political parties; and

    — how useful members of the respective negotiating teams found the civil service support and for what purposes.

  29.  Supporting the ideas of the Cabinet Secretary on transition of government arrangements were modifications made under the authority of the royal prerogative to the meeting of the new Parliament. The date for the first meeting of the newly elected Parliament in 2010 was put back one week longer than had been normal under post-1945 constitutional practice. The principal reason for this change, certainly as it was perceived by the media briefed by the civil service, was to facilitate post-election negotiations in the transition of government.


  30.  As stated above, the idea of the Cabinet Secretary was that the incumbent Prime Minister should remain in 10 Downing Street as a "caretaker" as long as it took for negotiations leading to a new government and agreed policy programme for office to be concluded. Although originally suspicious of civil service interference, during the five days of negotiations Mr Clegg came to enthusiastically adopt the Cabinet Secretary's views. As expressed shortly after the election.

  I come from the perspective that if you're trying to do something very unusual, which is of course creating a coalition in a political culture such as ours which isn't used to coalition, this is very unusual. We were doing it in an extraordinarily compressed timetable. In most other countries where they negotiate coalitions, they take months to do it. We were doing it in a matter of hours and days when everyone was pretty tired after the election campaign. So suddenly to be told out of the blue the Prime Minister was going to you know march off to Downing Street and say, "I'm fed up with this. You know I'm going to throw the towel in and I'm going to you know march off into the distant horizon", I thought was not the right way of going about things.

  31.  However our political culture, and the popular expectations of the media and country during the five days in May, was not yet ready or primed for this "caretaker" idea. Gordon Brown found himself in an extremely difficult position of personal and professional embarrassment on Tuesday 11 May, once it had become clear the Opposition Leader would become the new Prime Minister. The combination devised by the Cabinet Secretary of displacing Number 10 as the central forum for resolving who would form the next administration, and encouraging the opposition parties to take as long as they wanted in finalising a policy deal, left Mr Brown in a constitutional bind. Some of the mass circulation press were being vitriolic in presenting their view to the public. "Whitehall property scandal—squatter holed up in No 10—Man, 59, refuses to leave house in Downing Street", ran one of The Sun's front pages during the five days. It was this factor, above all, that motivated Gordon Brown to resign abruptly on Tuesday evening, May 11, even though it seems the Cabinet Office, and Buckingham Palace officials taking their lead from the civil servants, were putting him under some pressure to remain in post until the next day or even longer.


  32.  One further noteworthy aspect of the five days of negotiations was the role of internal party procedures. The Conservative and Labour leaders were procedurally free to negotiate as they thought fit, consulting only those they wished to do for tactical advice.

  33.  The Liberal Democrat Leader, Mr Clegg, alone was bound by party rules on the matter, which were—Conference notes the absence of specific constitutional provisions which clearly define the Party's approach to gaining positive consent to proposals for an important change in strategy or positioning: agrees that:

    (i) in the event of any substantial proposal which could affect the Party's independence of political action, the consent will be required of a majority of members of the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons and the Federal Executive;

    (ii) unless there is a three-quarters majority of each group in favour of the proposals, the consent of the majority of those present and voting at a Special Conference convened under clause 6.6 of the Constitution; and

    (iii) unless there is a two-thirds majority of those present and voting at that Conference in favour of the proposals, the consent of a majority of all members of the Party voting in the ballot called pursuant to clause 6.11 or 8.6 of the Constitution.

  Thus under party rules, there was this "triple lock" of constraints binding Mr Clegg before entering into any agreement with another party. The resolution governing the procedure was passed by the Liberal Democrat Party Conference in 1998, at which time there were concerns among activists about its then Leader Paddy Ashdown's ideas for closer relations with Tony Blair's New Labour government.


  34.  On the substance of the post-election agreements between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaderships, four documents were published in May, shaping how the coalition government would operate, two dealing with policy, two with process. Collectively, these documents and the accompanying statements made by the party leaders represent the constitutional principles and working arrangements for the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.

  35.  The first of these, published as a simple seven page stapled document on 11 May, was launched by the two party leaders at their media conference the day after taking office. It set out the issues that needed to be resolved between the two parties in order to establish a "strong and stable government", and said it would be followed in due course by a final Coalition Agreement, covering the full range of policy including foreign, defence and domestic policy issues not covered in the preliminary document. Eight days later on 20 May, a HM Government document gave the further elaboration on the parties' agreements, entitled, The Coalition: Our Programme for Government.

  36.  The Coalition Agreement reads and looks like an election manifesto, although its moral authority in terms of representing a democratic mandate for government is open to debate which the Committee may wish to explore with some specialists in political philosophy.

  37.  The nature and procedures for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats joint working arrangements were finalised between the party leaders last, and is contained in a document entitled, Coalition Agreement for Stability and Reform. It needs to be read alongside the fourth key document of the coalition, the new revised version of the Ministerial Code. Whilst the Stability and Reform document goes to the heart of the political partnership of the two parties, the Code has a more formal status so far as the Cabinet Office and machinery of government is concerned.

  38.  The Stability and Reform agreement is a concise, three page summary of essential working arrangements, under the headings of "composition of the government", "collective responsibility", "functioning of the government", and "support for the government in Parliament". At the crux of the power relationship between the parties and their respective leaders lies the constitutional fact that the Prime Minister has the executive powers of the royal prerogative at his disposal. These include the key powers of ministerial appointment, transfers, and dismissals; public appointments, including peerages in the second chamber; and control over the agenda and arrangement of Cabinet proceedings. Unsurprisingly therefore, consultation processes with the Deputy Prime Minister feature strongly throughout the Stability and Reform agreement.

  39.  More complex and politically sensitive is precisely how disagreements are to be managed and resolved, and how each party leader (particularly the Deputy Prime Minister) will deliver the support of his party in parliamentary votes crucial to the life of the coalition government. The well-known principles of collective Cabinet responsibility—confidentiality of proceedings and the public appearance of unanimity—are emphatically endorsed in the Coalition Agreement for Stability and Reform. They are stated to apply "unless explicitly set aside", and this is mirrored in the new version of the Ministerial Code. The agreement takes into account, however, that demands for collective responsibility must be matched by allowing ministers to present their views and be involved in relevant consultations and discussion.

  40.  Carefully constructed machinery has been created by the two party leaders to sustain the coalition and swiftly resolve any issues between the two parties. The most senior component in this is the "Coalition Committee", which has the status of being a formal Cabinet Committee. It is co-chaired by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, and comprises an equal number of Cabinet members from each party. It meets weekly, or as required. Below it is the Coalition Operation and Strategic Planning Group, which is designated an informal working group (not a Cabinet sub-committee), comprising four members, two from each party.

  41.  Across the new structure of Cabinet Committees established by the Prime Minister, each Committee has a chair from one party and a deputy chair from the other party, and if any unresolved issues arise between members of the different parties on any of the Committees, they are to be referred to the Coalition Committee.

  42.  So too, the Coalition Agreement for Stability and Reform carefully sets out the principles aimed at securing support for the coalition government in Parliament. "Ministers will be responsible for developing and maintaining a constructive dialogue with Members of both Parliamentary Parties", the agreement reads, and "the two Parties will aim to ensure support for Government policy and legislation from their two Parliamentary Parties, except where the Coalition Programme for Government specifically provides otherwise". The document provides that any exceptions allowing dissent must be specifically agreed by the Coalition Committee and Cabinet.


  43.  Some key political and constitutional lessons to be learnt from the process of government formation at the 2010 election are that:

    — In the event of a hung Parliament, it is the political leaders in consultation with their parties (under specific party procedures, where applicable) who by negotiation determine who will be Prime Minister and form the government.

    — The House of Commons has no direct role in formalising a new administration, which is a royal prerogative act of the monarch. The Committee may wish to consider whether a formal vote of confidence should now take always place in the Commons, consistent with the proposal for this procedure in the event of a censure motion and alternative government taking office under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill [Bill No 64 of 2010-11].

    — The monarchy accepts that it has no proactive role to play in government formation, though it closely follows events in order to offer any support necessary, including the ceremonial acts of receiving the resignation of the outgoing prime minister and inviting his/er successor to take office and form an administration.

    — The Cabinet Secretary has taken the initiative in developing constitutional practice on government formation. His purpose is to encourage negotiating parties to establish a detailed policy programme for government, whilst maintaining a caretaker government in office whilst the negotiations are conducted. However, the process by which this initiative was, and is, being conducted is questionable.

  44.  The Committee may therefore wish to consider:

    (a) whether it should inquire into the changes and whether they were shown to be necessary or desirable;

    (b) whether the pre-election preparations for implementing the Cabinet Secretary's changes were adequate or need improvement in a similar future situation, for example in the quality of support given to the incumbent Prime Minister in the role as "caretaker", and in developing public expectations about transition of government arrangements; and

    (c) whether it is intended that the Cabinet Manual is a public document of constitutional authority; and if so, whether the degree of public consultation outside Whitehall has been sufficient, and whether as a process for reform this should now be developed further by a cross-party parliamentary body such as the Committee itself and/or by a minister responsible to Parliament.

9 October 2010

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