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Coalition Government and Collective Responsibility

Allotting collective responsibility involves two aspects: a collective of persons is held mutually answerable for an event, and this liability trickles down to the members involved (Narveson, 2001. p. 180; Pierik, 2008, p. 472). In relation to the coalition government, this principle applies effectively based on the joint responsibilities that members of the respective governing body have towards the electorate. Nonetheless, certain practices evident within the coalition government exude some similarities and differences when compared to one-party government, with respect to collective responsibility. One similarity evident between coalition and single-party governments is the maintenance of collective responsibility. It is possible to sustain this principle within a coalition Cabinet based on the role of the Prime Minister as the cornerstone. A corresponding instance is also present in a single party government where the cabinet, under the President, acquires answerability for the occurrences within the state (Diermeier, Eraslan & Merlo, 2002, p. 896; Gay & Powell, 2004, p. 7). However, the difference is based on the manner this particular tenet actually undergoes implementation in government. According to Blais, Kim and Foucault (2010, p. 2), single-party governments have a much easier time in applying collective responsibility especially in fiscal matters.

In overview, individual ministerial responsibility comprises a constitutional convention within governments. The cabinet minister usually possesses chief responsibility for the organization and management of the ministry or departments as well as the actions (Berlinski, Dewan & Dowding, 2010, p. 560; Gay, 2012, p. 3). Due to the presence of this principle, the minister has to assume blame for the occurrence of failures. Usually, ministerial responsibility is similar in both coalition and one-party governments. On one hand, the cabinet is expected to be liable to any problems that may occur within the coalition government (Moury, 2009, p. 126). This also applies for single-party governments. Accordingly, ministers are also answerable based on the decisions regarding the policies they implement. For instance, parties within one-party governments are usually close to the government. Because of this, they are able to gain considerable leeway in the implementation of policies (Martin & Vanberg, 2004, p. 13; Aleman & Tsebelis, 2011, p. 7). However, since the same government revolves around democracy, then the policymakers are liable if any negative event should occur. Nonetheless, in contrast, the degree to which ministerial responsibility is different in both governments. In coalition governments, ministerial responsibility applies considerably since ministers, in their role as coalition partners, are bound by agreements, which make them liable for problems that may occur as an outcome of their policies (Seyd, 2002, p. 12).

The Cabinet Committee comprises a group of ministers charged with the mandate of making binding collective decisions across government. This is because the Cabinet is the ultimate decision-making organ within government and deals with immense daily issues, as well as the government’s general strategy (Better Government Initiative, 2013, p. 3). Due to these considerable duties, cabinet committees decrease the burden on the cabinet by facilitating collective decisions assumed by a lesser cohort of ministers (Velthut, 2002, p.2; Carroll, 2013, p.8). However, based on the different types of government systems, cabinet committees possess certain similarities and disparities. One similarity between the coalition and single-party cabinet committees is that both organizations usually meet in order to contemplate the issues that affect the functionality of the coalition, as well as the single-party government. However, in contrast, the person responsible for heading the committee within the coalition government is the Prime Minister, who receives interim assistance from the Deputy Prime Minister. In single-party governments, the President is usually the sole leader of the cabinet committee. Furthermore, the objectives behind decision-making are often different among cabinet committees. For a coalition government, cabinet committees may focus on initiating policies and decisions that focus on enhancing public welfare. The reason for this is to ensure that they receive significant swing votes in order to guarantee them another term in office (Merilainen, 2013, p.7). However, for single-party governments, the committee may concentrate on establishing decisions that allow the government to focus on the maximization of utility (Merilainen, 2013, p.7).

A sofa government is one in which the government head assumes responsibility for the establishment of chief decisions with a casual advisory group. This form of government was common in the United Kingdom, especially during the Blair era (Jones & Blick, 2010). In relation to coalition and one-party governments, the sofa government is considerably common in coalition governments. Nonetheless, the sofa government, in application to a single-party government, possesses some similarities to the coalition system. For instance, the head of government is in charge of affairs, in both governing systems. Hence, the prime minister and the president or majority leaders of the leading party act as heads within a sofa government in coalition and single-party governments respectively. However, in contrast, the sofa government in a coalition system is different with that of the single-party system since it restricts the application of institutional bureaucracies, ministerial meetings and civil service.

Conclusively, in my opinion there are few differences for the Cabinet and Prime Minister when in a coalition, than in a one party government. This is because the main aspects of a coalition government normally revolve around decision-making and the overall issue of collective responsibility. Accordingly, the decisions applied in coalition governments may be different from single-party governments, but they focus on maintaining a steady electorate that will vote them in regardless of the system. In examining facets such as cabinet committees, style of government and ministerial responsibility, it is evident that the obligations allocated to the Cabinet within a coalition government are less and considerably similar to those within a single-party cabinet.


Berlinski, S, Dewan, T & Dowding, K 2010, ‘The impact of individual and collective performance on ministerial tenure’, The Journal of Politics, vol. 72, no. 2, pp. 559-571.

Better Government Initiative 2013, Cabinet government: Collective decision – taking and the role of the cabinet, viewed 12 February 2014, <>.

Blais, A, Kim, J & Foucault, M 2010, ‘Public spending, public deficits and government conditions’, Political Studies, pp. 1-18.

Carroll, R 2013, ‘Coalitions, cabinets and committees’, in Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, pp. 1-23.

Diermeier, D, Eraslan, H & Merlo A 2002, ‘Coalition governments and comparative constitutional design’, European Economic Review, vol. 46, pp. 893-907.

Eduardo, A & Tsebelis, G 2011, ‘Political parties and government coalitions in the Americas’, Journal of Politics in Latin America, vol. 3, no.1, pp. 3-28.

Gay, O 2012, Individual ministerial accountability, House of Commons Library, viewed 12 February 2014, <>.

Jones, G & Blick, A 2010, The PM and the centre of UK government from Tony Blair to David Cameron: How much will change in the transition from single-party to coalition government,, viewed 12 February 2014, <>.

Martin, L W & Vanberg, G 2004, ‘Policing the bargain: Coalition government and parliamentary scrutiny’, American Journal of Political Science, vol. 48, no. 1, pp. 13-27.

Merilainen, P J 2013, ‘Do single-party and coalition governments differ in economic outcomes? Evidence from Finnish municipalities’, Master’s thesis, University of Helsinki.

Moury, C 2009, ‘Coalition government and party mandate: Explaining ministerial room of manoeuvre vis-à-vis the coalition agreement’, Sociologia, Problemas E Practicas, vol. 59, pp. 125-156.

Narveson, A 2001, ‘Collective responsibility’, The Journal of Ethics, vol. 6, pp. 179-198.

Pierik, R 2008, ‘Collective responsibility and national responsibility’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 465-483.

Powell, T & Gay, O 2004, The collective responsibility of ministers-an outline of the issues, House of Commons Library, viewed 12 February 2014, <>.

Seyd, B 2002, Coalition government in Britain: Lessons from overseas, University College London, London.

University College London 2011, Inside story: How coalition government works, <>.

Velthut, A 2002, ‘Government support structures in coalition governments: Towards an analytical framework’, in NISPAcee 10th Annual Conference: Delivering public services in CEE countries: Trends and Developments, Krakow, pp. 1-14.

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