Constructing conflict and cooperation: The rhetoric of coalition bargaining

Judi Atkins*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The central contention of this article is that coalition bargaining is permeated by the competing imperatives of unity and distinctiveness, and that rhetoric is key to managing these. Drawing on Kenneth Burke’s ‘new rhetoric’, the article distinguishes three forms of identification and division – ideological, instrumental and interpersonal – at work within coalition bargaining. This framework is applied to the negotiations on electoral reform that preceded the formation of the UK coalition government in 2010. The analysis reveals that, through the rhetoric of identification, senior Conservatives and Liberal Democrats discovered ideological common ground on the equalization of constituency boundaries, together with a shared interest in promising to hold a referendum on AV, and thus succeeded in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement on this contentious issue.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-324
Number of pages10
JournalParty Politics
Issue number3
Early online date12 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019

Bibliographical note

© Sage 2017. The final publication is available via Sage at


  • coalition bargaining
  • Conservative–Liberal
  • Democrat government
  • electoral reform
  • identification
  • rhetoric


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