Conflict in the coalition – a golden opportunity missed?

In my last post, I began to explore the complexities of conflict as a multi-faceted notion that refutes and extends beyond the one dimensional idea of conflict as some sort of negative phenomenon. Instead, looking previously at the work of Mullins (2005) and Buchanan and Huczynski (2010) we began unpacking conflict, touching briefly on the theoretical explorations of the aforementioned writers’, who start to characterise conflict as a force that can impact both negatively and positively under varying contexts and situations.

Moving on from this, Fox (1966/1973) offers four ‘Frames of Reference’ with which to deal with and perceive conflict:

  • Unitarist – Conflict is bad and should not exist within the workplace, instead organisations should be harmonious.
  • Pluralist – Conflict as an inevitable force, where two or more groups that form an organisation will have opposing ideas, but can have positive side effects.
  • Interactionists – Conflict as a positive and necessary force.
  • Radical – Conflict as an inevitable outcome of a capitalist economic model.

To fully understand the implications and sensibility of this theory it becomes important at this stage to introduce a case study, thus allowing us to further explore the above ideas in more detail through the deconstruction and analysis of real-life events.

On May 11th 2010 the general election for government took place and resulted in a hung-parliament. As a result, the LibCon coalition government was born, in order to create a party that held enough cabinet seats to facilitate a majority ruling, ultimately with 16 seats going to the Conservatives and 5 to the Liberal Democrats.

As Buchanan and Huczynski (2010) point out, most organisations are formed as collections of groups with different interests, where those interests will clash or sometimes coincide. This would generally be a redundant way to look at government as most governments are made up of one party where ideology and agenda is a unanimous school of thought, however this explanation fits well in characterising the coalition government as two groups who strongly advocate opposing political ideas.

While the Conservative party is considered a centre right-wing group who promote conservatism, British unionism and mild Euro-scepticism, the Liberal Democrats on the other hand champion key concepts of reform, civil liberties and environmentalism. Therefore, our current government provides us with perfect opportunity to look at managing conflict in order to maximise potential within an organisation.

Going back to Fox (1966/1973) and the four ‘frames of reference’, it is easy to categorise the coalition as a pluralist organisation, where conflict (though inevitable), should in theory be able to cultivate positive results if managed properly. Buchanan and Huczynski (2010) suggest that two opposing groups need to ‘compromise and collaborate in order to achieve mutual survival strategy’, and that this should result in functional conflict which achieves results and end goals as opposed to counter-productive dysfunctional conflict, which is often indicative of mismanagement.

Hutch and Cunliffe (2006) explore this further in their ‘contingency model of conflict’ (sometimes known as the bell shaped curve) where they suggest that conflict is counterproductive in cases where there is either too little (and hence a lack of motivation), or too much (and the stress levels are harmful). A middle-ground between the two, they suggest, is the perfect combination for creating a conflicting environment where things like productivity, creativity and functionality are maximised.

Therefore, at face value the coalition government should be the ideal type of government, where ideological opposition should create innovative and revolutionary politics and policies. However, it only takes a half-hearted Google search, or brief skim of a half-decent newspaper to know this hasn’t been the case. From parliamentary in-bitching, to relation breakdowns, something with this coalition has gone seriously wrong. With inconsistency over policy and very awkward, very public fall-outs, this LibCon government is now notoriously known for being an absolute joke. Why? Well, quite simply because they didn’t manage the conflict!

Rather disappointingly after countless promises, the Cameron-Clegg political wedding that sounded like such a good idea at the time has been about as popular as a bad case of influenza. With key figures like Vince Cable MP refusing to acknowledge any kind of Tory partnership, and back-benchers berating both leaders, this joint venture has gone to pot, and what’s left? A stagnating government who appear as outdated as they are out of touch, with losses in the opinion polls and an ever growing embittered public.

In my opinion, this is a real shame! What a golden opportunity wasted. With the triple-dip recession looming, unemployment spiking through the roof and national debt rising faster than the speed of light, not even an Olympics or Golden Jubilee have been able to paper over these cracks! Who’s to blame? Well, if you ask me, it’s Cameron and Clegg – for being the biggest girl’s blouses on the block! Shrinking violet Clegg has all but faded into the background, after being seduced as Cameron’s official bitch on the side and Cameron has his head buried so far in the sand he’s pretty much protruding out of the ground somewhere in China. What should have been an opportunity to turn this country around and stuff the Great back into Britain, has through total mismanagement and constant wishy-washy politics failed us all, resulting in a government racked with instability and incompetence in equal measure.

What are your thoughts? I really want to know. Are you in favour of my views, or do you think the government hasn’t been a complete loss? Comment below, join in the debate on Twitter and tell me what you think!!

Oliver Bailey

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11 thoughts on “Conflict in the coalition – a golden opportunity missed?

  1. 移動電源 says:

    You must possess a great deal of pride in creating high quality content material. I’m impressed with the quantity of solid information you have written inside your article. I hope to study much more.

  2. Simon Elliot says:

    Nice post. It’s interesting to look at conflict in this way, where we learn that it can actually be used to heighten things like productivity and motivation. I think the case study is spot on, Cameron and Clegg really missed a trick here.

    • Janet Badenoch says:

      Hi Oliver, I agree with Simon great post and interesting way to approach conflict.
      Simon, I don’t think Cameron and Clegg, missed a trick as such… In fact they’ve had conflict in abundance, what they failed to do was keep it ‘functional’.

    • Hi Simon,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Glad you enjoyed the read, and found it informative.

      As stated in my previous post, I too was shocked to discover conflict thought of in these unconventional ways at first.

      Now that you maybe see conflict differently, are there any circumstances or examples where you might change your behaviour or reaction to conflict?

  3. Susannah McKay says:

    Hi Oliver,

    Excellent Post!! I agree with you completely, I did have my reservations about the coalition to begin with but thought that it might be exactly what this country needed.
    Unfortunately I too think they have become a lost cause, I assumed that entering a coalition would mean that Conservative policy wouldn’t run riot as the Lib Dems would have a say in what went on.
    From what I can gather from the press and from the horses mouth themselves though, both politician’s have gone back on things they had said prior to the elections, and I whole heartedly agree with you on your point about Clegg fading into the background and acting in a role more akin to what I would class as Cameron’s personal assistant.
    I disagree with Richard, as I don’t think their differences are clear to be seen at all, it’s a shame they didn’t know a bit more about conflict management like you’ve written about in this post because maybe then they’d of made a better go of things.

    • Hi Susannah,

      Thanks for coming back to me on this.

      Reading your response to the post, makes it clear we have a very similar view of the state of this government.

      Out of interest, how would you like to have seen the coalition shape up? What sorts of policies would you like to have seen implemented, and how would you like to have seen conflict between them result?

  4. Richard Armitage says:

    Hi Oliver, nice post, well written and well informed, you’ve clearly done you’re research although I have to say right off the bat that I don’t agree with you at all! Sorry.
    You’re clearly a Labour Party supporter, am I right?
    I don’t think the coalition has been a complete loss at all, in fact on the contrary I think they’ve certainly tried to make the best of a bad situation.
    Also, you suggest that coalition govs make perfect sense and are a great framework for politics, but as you yourself pointed out the opposing ideologies create to much toing and froing.
    In my opinion the current government inherited this country when it was on its knees, clinging to life like some terminally ill patient and it’s the fault of no one other than the Labour party.
    What Cameron and Clegg have tried to do, is to breathe life into this land once more and unfortunately it’s a slow process.
    While there have been some problems I think they have been overplayed in the press and actually think both Cameron and Clegg even though I’m not an avid Lib Dem supporter, have handled themselves quite well.
    Why is it you’re so eager to point out there failings, may I ask?

    • Hi Richard, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment on my blog.

      Unfortunately, you’re wrong and I am in fact a solid Conservative supporter – although as can be gauged from my blog entry I’m currently pretty disenchanted by the present leader of the party.

      To come back to the point you made about coalitions and the nature of their volatility I do completely agree, however from a theoretical perspective as demonstrated in the article, on paper this type of government should work in terms of the opposing ideologies meaning better quality decisions are made, because of increased levels of productivity, functionality and morale!

      While I also fully support the ideas you have about the state in which Labour left this country, I just can’t entertain your ideas about Cameron or Clegg trying to breathe life back into this country as anything other than hippy nonsense! The problem with 21st century politics is that no one is prepared to make a stand, so what we have are the main three parties who are now no longer left or right, they’re all central because sitting on the fence and not rocking the boat is the safest strategy in terms of trying to maximise public opinion when it comes to the polls.

      I also disagree with you on your point about the press blowing things out of proportion, in my opinion the press has only reflected to a reasonably accurate level the waste of space politics these two have been doing! How may I ask you do you believe this government has handled themselves well? We’ve experienced the most public spending cuts on record under this government, have been driven into a triple-dip recession, have experienced high unemployment rates, economic austerity is rife and both of these leaders have back tracked on several occasions, on key policies that were promised before their election.

      May I also ask you, why it is you’re so eager to defend them? Please do tell me what it is this government has done for you and your life that has had any beneficial side effects? I really am interested to hear back from you!

      • Richard Armitage says:

        You make some good points, coming back to me. I can see you’re clearly steadfast in your beliefs and while that is a good thing I would suggest you always leave room for opinion to change. While I wont leap to the defence of the current gov, I also wont completely write them off as I truly believe they haven’t done as bad as people may often think.
        I think the hardships our country and in fact most countries around the world now face is a product of the times and stems from economic mismanagement by corporate giants, I don’t think the government is overly responsible for our current situation!
        Politics isn’t centralised either, there are still clear differences between the three main parties and I think they do well In differentiating themselves, through active policy and ideology!!
        To answer your question about what this government has done for me, well the answer is nothing, I’m a firm believer of meritocracy and getting out what you put in, therefore I do not expect this or any government to do anything for me, just as long as their actions don’t undermine my achievements.

        • Hi Richard,

          Thanks for your reply.

          Apologies if I come across as unwilling to take on board what you’re saying, this couldn’t be further from the truth!

          In fact we share common ground, over the belief that the government is not solely responsible for the mess this country is in!

          However, while on paper there are differences between the political parties, in practice these lines are very blurred in my opinion.

          Coming back to the point I raised about what has the government done for you – as a someone who is opposed to much of the welfare system, and this prevalent ‘I’m Owed Something’ culture, I didn’t actually mean what has the government done for you in that way.

          What I was trying to say was, amidst the rises in tax, cuts to public spending, soaring inflation rates et al. what has the government done in terms of making life easier for you to get on?

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