This paper addresses a highly unusual period in UK governance: the 2010-15 UK Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. This paper draws on research interviews conducted with policy participants to provide an ‘internal account’ of the rationalities and resistance that were central to this period in political history. Four narratives, or ‘impressionist tales’ (Van Maanen, 1988), are presented: ‘Whitehall’ (policy officials); ‘moderates’ (those seeking to resist the penal arms race); ‘reformers’ (those seeking substantial full-system reform) and ‘outsiders’ (policy participants seeking to influence and inform policy). Through this collection of narrated experiences, we come to discern the rationalities that underpinned the period of coalition government. We see that ultimately the results of this exceptional situation was to re-formalize internal policymaking processes; to increase its centralization and insularity; and to substantially limit the scope for inclusive penal reform. In conclusion, the paper draws on inter alia Gabriel (2004, 2016) and Rhodes (2011) to understand the durability of such policymaking rationalities, and the implications for penal policy.

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