Party spending promises ‘should be checked independently’

30 Mar 15

The Institute for Government has called for independent scrutiny of political party spending pledges ahead of general elections to ensure that future coalition negotiations take place on a sound evidence base.

In its analysis of the five-year coalition government, published on the day parliament is dissolved, the think-tank said long-established two-party rule of UK politics had changed, and there was a need to ‘rewrite the political rulebook’.

Lessons from the coalition government included the need to create a system to assess and cost party policy plans before elections, which could be done by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

This would ensure that future negotiations around coalition agreements would be based on independent assessment of plans, IfG fellow Akash Paun said. The trend towards pluralism in the British party system was well established and hung parliaments would probably become more frequent, he added.

‘The British political system will have to adapt in various ways over the coming years, no matter what the result in 2015.’

Other recommendations in today’s Westminster in an age of minorities report included a call for the civil service to spend more time learning about the policies and priorities of the minor parties. In particular, the process of ‘pre-election contacts’ between opposition frontbenchers and departmental permanent secretaries should be expanded to minor parties, which would also improve pre-election negotiations.

In coalition negotiations held after an election, more thought should be given to the machinery, processes and principles underpinning any agreement.

Parties should be more open to using civil service expertise to inform policies agreed during negotiations, while coalition agreements themselves should include provisions for a mid-term review.

The rules around transitions following elections should also be clarified to ensure a more informed public debate around the formation of a new government, the IfG said. This should include the House of Commons introducing new provisions to make its first business after an election an explicit vote on who should become Prime Minister, rather than the formation of a government being based on passage of the Queen’s Speech.

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