Marc Debus
Portfolio allocation and policy compromises: How and why the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government

The Political Quarterly, 2011: 82, issue 2, p. 293-304
ISSN: 0032-3179

The question of “who gets what?” is one of the most interesting issues in coalition politics. Research on portfolio allocation has thus far produced some clear-cut empirical findings: coalition parties receive ministerial posts in close proportion to the number of parliamentary seats they win. This article poses two simple questions: Why did the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats agree to form a coalition government and, secondly, did the process of portfolio allocation in the UK in 2010 reflect standard patterns of cabinet composition in modern democracies? In order to answer these questions, we apply a content analysis of election manifestos to estimate the policy positions of the parties represented in the House of Commons. The results show that a coalition between the Tories and Lib Dems was indeed the optimal solution in the British coalition game in 2010. When applying the portfolio allocation model, it turns out that the Conservatives fulfilled the criteria of a “strong party”, implying that the Tories occupied the key position in the coalition game. On account of this pivotal role, they were ultimately able to capture the most important ministries in the new coalition government.