British Politics

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 308–334 | Cite as

Inaction and reaction – Coalition government and constitutional reform in the United Kingdom

  • Felicity Matthews
Original Article

Abstract

Constitutional reform in the United Kingdom is a story frequently framed around the narratives of missed opportunities, executive intransigence and institutional stickiness. Yet in times of flux and uncertainty, matters of the constitution can scale the political agenda at breakneck speed; and as the architecture of the United Kingdom teeters on the precipice of potentially fundamental upheaval, it is crucial to locate recent events within the broader history of constitutional reform in order to tease apart the dynamics of stasis and change. This article responds by offering the first complete in-depth analysis of the 2010–2015 Coalition Government’s record on the constitution, focusing on the gap between rhetoric and reform, and the way in which constitutional traditions have confounded the ability to effectively manage the tensions that exist within the UK’s uneasy settlement. In doing so, the article sets out the institutional and ideational factors that have influenced attitudes towards constitutional reform, in particular focusing on the way in which dilemmas of office have confounded meaningful attempts to alter Britain’s constitutional fabric. It argues that three critical factors together explain the Coalition’s record on the constitution: the clash of constitutional philosophies within the Coalition; the dilemmas with which the Liberal Democrats were confronted in the transition from opposition to government; and, the extent to which the governing norms of constitution effectively neuter attempts to its reform. The findings of this article are therefore salient and significant, providing valuable lessons regarding the tenability of the UK’s extant constitutional architecture and the capacity of the Conservative Government to successfully manage and vent the myriad of pressures upon it.

Keywords

constitution constitutional reform coalition government institutions ideology 

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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Felicity Matthews
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PoliticsUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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