Calls have been mounting for a national unity government – comprised of leaders from all major UK parties – to steer us through the coronavirus crisis.
Yesterday George Freeman, a Tory MP, said a national government was “unavoidable”, while Labour leadership candidate Lisa Nandy has backed the idea of a “national COBRA”, and Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Layla Moran also says she is on board.
Indeed, we live in unprecedented times – rendering the adversarial tribalism we see day to day at best inappropriate and at worst counterproductive. The appetite for unity is there, and there are many good reasons to capitalise on it.
Here are five key reasons why it should happen.
1. Parliament is going into recess
Today, Parliament is going into recess and the government will rule without the cut and thrust of daily scrutiny.
Opposition parties are needed to hold the government to account and if they are unable to do so in the Commons, they should be included in government instead.
2. National emergency convention
In times of crisis, the UK has formed a national government. There was one during the Napoleonic Wars, and others during both world wars – enabling Labour to prove its ability to govern and ultimately leading to Clement Attlee’s post-war Labour government.
And these types of government are not limited to war-time. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, four national governments were formed to manage the economic crisis.
While Britain has no constitution, it has a strong respect for convention and tradition. With coronavirus creating an emergency of such grand proportions, now is a time to evoke that respect.
3. The government’s unconvincing response
Our current government has fumbled at every turn in managing the coronavirus crisis.
From arrogantly ignoring other countries and embarking on a “herd-immunity” strategy, to failing to test enough people for the illness – despite advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) – it has cocked up on several occasions while attempting to “manage” the pandemic.
Clearly, fresh perspectives are needed. A national government would facilitate these.
4. Utilising the skills of the opposition
Opposition parties have networks the Tory party does not.
From their history of investing in the NHS, to their relationship with trade unions, the Labour Party can coordinate responses among different groups than our ruling party.
And with the virus permeating through all groups in society, the government’s response must do too. Only a coalition can deliver this.
5. Other countries are ruled by coalitions
A coalition government, even a temporary one, is by no means abnormal. European countries including France, Italy and Germany are ruled by them, and they also exist in Japan and Australia.
While the existence of these governments cannot be deemed the reason for faster responses, these countries entered lockdowns faster than the UK, and Germany is overseeing a far better mortality rate than the UK.
What can be said is that with new perspectives shared, a national unity government can offer flexibility at a time when it is needed most. It is a must.