Since the first pre-election contacts between Whitehall and the Opposition began 50 years ago ahead of the 1964 election, various conventions and practices have grown up, as discussed in two IfG reports written by Catherine Haddon and myself (Transitions- preparing for changes of government published in November 2009, and Transitions: Lessons Learned – Reflections on the 2010 UK General Election and looking ahead to 2015 published in October 2011). These reports highlighted both the advantages and the inherent tensions involved in such contacts. The potential gains are obvious in helping a new government quickly get into its stride. The problems are more complicated, reflecting the uncertainties over the stewardship role of permanent secretaries in ensuring good government in the long-term, whoever is in office, as opposed to their primary constitutional duty of serving the ministers of the day. These conflicts are reconciled through ambiguity. Opposition parties are allowed to have confidential contacts with permanent secretaries, whose content is not shared with current ministers, but only at times determined by the Prime Minister and limited, in theory, to machinery of government and organisational matters. The Institute, in its forthcoming ‘Year Five’ report, will show how the existing understandings are being strained, […]

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