The way the United Kingdom is governed has changed substantially following the 2010 general election. The central executive looks very different four to five years on. This is partly due to the existence of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition altering the familiar pattern of decision-making, but only partly. Many of the changes in the scale of central government, of the civil service based in Whitehall, were proposed, at least in outline, by the Conservatives in opposition before the 2010 election and were implemented after then with little input from the Liberal Democrats. This chapter will therefore address two questions: first, how the coalition is run within Whitehall; and, second, how the executive itself has changed since 2010.
The coalition came into existence in May 2010 after thirteen years of two very different Prime Ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Each, in their contrasting ways, personalized the office, relying on a group of personally appointed advisers to take forwards their wishes, sidelining many of their Cabinet colleagues. Senior civil servants in 10 Downing Street still had influence, notably Sir Jeremy Heywood, initially as principal private secretary to Blair and then as Permanent Secretary, Downing Street, to Mr Brown, and then to David Cameron, as well as foreign policy advisers like Sir David Manning. There were a number of innovations at the centre, such as the creation in 2001 of the Delivery Unit and of the Strategy Unit, and, then in the wake of the international financial crisis of 2008, of the National Economic Council. Other new units came and went, though some have been re-invented under a different name, as discussed in the Institute for Government's report on such units.
The House of Commons expenses scandal of 2009 led to demands to ‘clean up’ politics, in the hope of restoring the reputation of politicians and politics generally.