How Stuff Works: The different types of Coalition

Coalitions in UK are a rarity; something we’ve only experienced a handful of times. But in other parts of the world they are the norm – and due to the individual intricacies of each political system, a number of different types of coalition have emerged.

NB: coalition types are not mutually exclusive.

1. Minimum Winning Coalition

Definition: “Contains the smallest number of parties which together can secure a parliamentary majority”1

Example: The government of the 26th Irish Dáil: a coalition between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. 83 seats are needed for a majority, Fianna Fáil had 77 and the Progressive Democrats had 6, together the coalition reached 83 seats – the minimum number needed for a majority coalition2

2. Oversized Coalition

Definition: “Contains more parties than the minimum winning coalition”3

Example: The Thai election of 2011 gave The Pheu Thai party a majority, with 265 of the 500 seats in the lower house. However, party leader Yingluck Shinawatra decided to negotiate a coalition with 4 other parties to boost the government’s parliamentary majority4

3.  Grand Coalition

Definition: “Formed by the two leading parties, usually from the left and the right, which together command a substantial majority of seats” 5

Example: The first Merkel government was a grand coalition between the centre-right Christian Democrats/Christian Social Union and the centre-left Social Democrats, as the CDU/CSU’s more obvious coalition partner – the Free Democrats – did not have enough seats to give a centre-right coalition a majority6

4. Connected Coalition

Definition: “Only contains parties that are located next to each other on the ideological spectrum”7

Example:The Danish government elected in 2007 is a connected, centre-right coalition of the Liberal Party, the Danish People’s Party and the Conservative Party8

The 2010 UK coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives can be classified as a Minimum Winning Coalition and may also be argued to be a Connected Coalition.

1 Comparative Government and Politics: An Introduction, Eighth Edition, Hague and Harrop, page 330


How Stuff Works: Parliamentary Naming – Addressing a fellow MP in the Chamber

The House of Commons is a unique place, full of ancient rules governing everything from what members may say to how they may leave the chamber. With the frequent broadcast of Parliamentary clips and growing popularity of Prime Minister’s Questions, many might wonder why members of parliament refer to each other in the way that they do. The ground rules of addressing fellow MPs in the chamber are as follows:

For the following examples we will use Jeremy Hunt, MP for South West Surrey, and member of the Privy Council, as the person we are addressing.

                Use of names and ‘you’ are not allowed

Referring to an MP by their name, such as ‘Jeremy’ or ‘Hunt’ is unparliamentary.

Using the pronoun ‘you’ is also breach of parliamentary protocol – ‘you’ always refers to the Speaker or Deputy Speaker.

                Official titles must be used instead – Constituency titles

In place of names and pronouns, MPs must refer to each other using official title, for example ‘The Honourable Member for South West Surrey”.

When an MP is also a member of the Privy Council[1], ‘Right’ suffixes their title, ‘The Right Honourable Member for South West Surrey”.

Furthermore, when referring to a Member from the same party, or from a coalition partner, the Member must account for this relationship: ‘My (Right) Honourable Friend, the Member for South West Surrey’.

It is also possible for members to substitute ‘Member’, with ‘Gentleman’ or ‘Lady’.

                Ministerial titles

Those MPs who are Ministers – either Secretaries of State or Junior Ministers – are often referred to as ‘the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport’ or ‘the Minister for <department>’, in place of their parliamentary title. Either their ministerial title or their constituency title may be used and is a choice is at the discretion of the member speaking.

How Stuff Works: The Privy Council (Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council)

The Privy Council (PC) is one of those ancient bodies lost in a fog of age and mystery. Even the law fails to provide any firm statutory definition: according to the Interpretation Act 1978, “‘The Privy Council’ means the Lords and others of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council”1. Dating back to approximately the 11/12th Century, the PC formed whilst the sovereign governed by divine right. Since then, functions such as Parliament and the courts of law have evolved. Some of these institutions were founded independently of the PC, but others stemmed from the PC into a distinct body. Over the years, it seems that most of the useful and articulate substance of the Council has been extracted, and left it with a miscellaneous mush of duties.

Over 540 counsellors make up the PC, including senior politicians, cabinet ministers, judiciary, church figures and previous MPs (and currently Prince Phillip). Once the oath of allegiance that dates back to 12502 has been sworn, appointment is for life. In theory, the Queen can appoint anyone, but in practise, it is usually on the recommendation of the government. Until recently, members of the PC would take precedence over other MPs when speaking in the House of Commons chamber, and could speak for longer. The Lord President of the PC is always a cabinet minister, and usually leader of one of the Parliamentary Houses. Since May 2010 up to the present day, the Lord President of the PC is the Rt Hon Nick Clegg3.


Discarding the circular definition given by the Interpretation Act, essentially, the PC is a group of advisors to the sovereign. It’s vaguely split into two parts; the Council and the Judicial Committee. The Council are to officially advise on both “the exercise of prerogative powers”4 and the Queen’s personal powers, before performing them on her behalf. Counsellors may make orders that bypass Parliament and therefore avoid any compulsory compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998. Once passed, these orders have the same strength as Parliament-enacted laws. The discussions within the PC meetings range from the Royal Wedding5 to the UN restrictive measures on Libya6. Patrick O’Connor Q.C., who wrote a paper on the role of the PC, claimed “There can be no consistent rationale for these diverse functions. They are little more than a rag bag of historical accidents”7.

Roger Smith, JUSTICE Director, acknowledges that “many people may have heard of [the Privy Council’s] Judicial Committee” which has a much more defined role than that of the Council. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) operates differently to normal courts to “humbly advise Her Majesty” whilst holding the power to save people from death. Usually it comprises of 12 law lords from the highest court (Appellate Court) but occasionally employs prominent foreign judges. It acts as the final court of appeal to many former colonies, Commonwealth countries and overseas territories e.g. the Isle of Man. However, since 19318, many have cut their ties with the JCPC including Canada, Australia, India and New Zealand9. In October 2009 the court moved from the Council Chamber in Downing Street to the Supreme Court10, and now deals with approximately 55-65 Commonwealth and devolution appeals each year11.

Of course, as with any institution, there is a deep history, but this provides an outline to one of the most opaque bodies in this age of the transparent government.