Culture

Are We Heading For A National Government?

A wartime effort can change the political landscape, and coronavirus may rearrange Britain once more. Here’s what could – and should – happen

30.03.2020 | Murray Clark
 

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You see, the thing about the Conservatives is that they love blue: regal, Britannia, Thatcher handbag blue. Like so many other right wing parties around the world, their favourite colour is one of professionalism, stoicism and smartness, or so said image consultant Jenny Cutler to the BBC in 2006.

And so, upon one of Boris Johnson’s earlier daily briefings in light of the coronavirus, his colours weren’t nailed to the mask, so to speak. His pulpit wasn’t clad in Conservative cobalt, or even the official crest of Downing Street. It was fringed in a Neapolitan ice cream of gold, red and blue. Though each is said to represent a portion of the government’s social distancing policy (‘stay home, protect the NHS, save lives’ - please pay attention to this, for humanity’s sake), it’s a remarkable collage of Johnson’s adversaries, co-opting the traditional shades of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Queen Sturgy’s SNP into one unified front: we’re all in this together, à la High School Musical: The Plague Years.

It’s a rare sign of bipartisanship in the ever toxic confines of Westminster. And it’s necessary: Covid-19 doesn’t care if you handed out a few leaflets for Corbyn. This is the one of the greatest foes to ever invade these shores. People are going to die. And as Johnson is ever-keen to remind us of ‘wartime measures’ in place, there’s every chance the political establishment could shapeshift into a wartime organisation: a national government.

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Defined as a working coalition of the major political parties, several crises throughout British history have prompted everyone to just get on for a little bit. The Great Depression of 1931 saw Tories, Labourites and Liberals all unite as a joint cabinet to restore confidence in Westminster. And most famously, Winston Churchill upgraded the idea of a national government into an all-party coalition as the globe slowly set on fire during World War II.

So, how would it work? Boris would ultimately remain as Prime Minister. But instead of surrounding himself with poodles, big roles would go to his opponents: Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP would all have a hand in policing, health, education, foreign policy - all the big mechanisms that make a government a work. There would be no opposition. No blue versus red. No being forced to vote on bills that you don’t personally agree with. Instead, laws and policies and ideas suggested would grant MPs free will to scrutinise and vote for (or against) as they saw morally fit.

There’s a surplus of benefits here. Boris wouldn’t have to kneecap emergency measures with ideology. For instance, MPs could agree to work with the EU on ventilator resourcing and not suffer a ‘Remoaner’ tattoo inked to the forehead by Brexity colleagues. They’d have free will, and MPs could routinely break from their own parties for the greater good. You know, many of these people aren’t actually stupid. They want to do the right thing. But optics and the media and the machinations of Dominic Cummings (an unelected advisor that has exerted a dangerously powerful grip over No. 10) prevent them from doing the sensical thing. Politics trumps practicality. What’s more, no one party has a monopoly on good ideas.

Except in dire situations of which we face today. Like the Great Depression, and the war, coronavirus is a novel threat that requires common differences to be put aside. With our Prime Minister now afflicted with the same condition, the alarm bells are sounding louder still. We are even more rudderless, as if that was even humanly possible. The only alternative, then, may be to call upon talent across the spectrum; individuals like Labour’s Yvette Cooper, who has served on multiple front benches, and Lib Dem comeback kid Vince Cable, and indeed the newly-coronated Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, who has deeply impressed with his composure and professionalism throughout. Even die-hard Labour tweeters have admitted that they ‘would bang’.

Because coronavirus, like recessions and total war, suffers achromatopsia. It kills Thatcher blues, Corbyn reds, even Clegg yellows. And if our government lost its sense of colour too, we may, ironically, have a country led by every shade – and one collectively smart and well-balanced enough to tackle the swelling danger ahead.

images | shutterstock

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