During the First and Second World Wars, we had Governments of National Unity to guide us through those awful times and rise to the challenges of those dreadful crises. By and large, these governments worked successfully. We are now faced in this country with four major crises which together are of comparable severity and difficulty, demanding a competent and far-sighted government and major national sacrifices. The First and Second World War governments inspired public trust and a willingness to make sacrifices. Sacrifices were made in the name of a government that was trusted and a cause that was mostly considered by the public to be just.
Today we are faced with two global crises and two home grown in the UK:
- A coronavirus pandemic which threatens the lives and livelihoods of all of us
- An environmental catastrophe which threatens to engulf all citizens of the world, including the UK, within a decade or two
- A Brexit which is going horribly wrong and which in many people’s opinion threatens us all
- A UK constitutional crisis which threatens the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
All of these crises are man-made.
Potential solutions are readily available for all four of these crises.
- International cooperation on a massive scale to understand, treat and vaccinate against the coronavirus, and competent, trusted, well-resourced governments working with their populations to defeat the virus at home;
- International cooperation and funding on a massive scale to address the climate change challenges which have been well-researched and understood and where the required solutions are largely already known;
- A well-negotiated settlement to Brexit, requiring willingness and good faith by negotiators and governments on both sides;
- Within the UK, an end to the political squabbling and point-scoring and power-grabbing which have been a feature of recent times undermining the Union of GB and Northern Ireland, and a mature approach to proper cooperation and consultation on all sides to make existing systems work properly, prepare future systems of cooperation to be worked on, and remove the uncertainty concerning border matters in Northern Ireland.
None of the above is rocket science. It is all well within the power of humans to achieve, given good will and good government. Politicians are primarily in positions of power because the citizens delegate them to form governments to act in the best interests of their people and provide them with systems and solutions which work, as far as is humanly possible.
How is UK reacting to these crises?
In the UK, at the moment, we do not have a competent and trusted government. We have a government consisting largely of Brexit Leave campaigners and their political allies and followers. They on the whole have little experience of government and have an agenda-driven bias of their own.
In responding to the virus, they have been slow, unable to process accumulating information quickly and decisively, and their solutions have often missed their intended target or gone awry in other ways. The government’s style has been its downfall, because it has been over-defensive, failed to be honest with the public, and quickly turned to blaming and sacking others, which the public do not like, when the responsibility is the government’s own.
In dealing with Brexit, the government has consistently pushed its preference for a no deal or near no deal outcome, which will allow it maximum scope to deregulate the economy, remove protections and rights for consumers and the public in order to reduce business costs and stimulate the economy (as the government sees it) for competitive businesses. This is far from what electors voted for. Promises made during general elections and the referendum have all been seen to be unachievable or fiction, or just plain lies, and this has eroded trust. Now the government has lobbed the Internal Market Bill into the situation which appears to be designed as a negotiation wrecking operation.
On the environmental crisis, there has been no passion or vision in the government’s approach. There have been some grudging and defensive remarks from the environment secretary about how much flood defence investment there has been in the past and in future plans. However the scheduled COP26 meeting, a very major event in the world-wide response to the problem, following up on the Paris Accord, was given a very low priority by the government and was quickly cancelled for virus reasons. While there have been a few patchy indicators from the government that it is mindful of the crisis, it is still funneling large amounts of cash into major road schemes, and there is no sign, beyond a few warm words, of a major Green Deal initiative along the lines of the recent EU announcement.
The constitutional crisis is entirely the fault of the present government. It has not seen the devolved administrations as partners, but as competitors. In Scotland, where the governing party is SNP, the demand for independence has not unexpectedly grown considerably. In Wales, where the administration is run by Labour, the first minister complained that he had only spoken to the prime minister over the telephone once over the past four months. In Northern Ireland, the government’s vacillation over the border has created enormous uncertainty for residents and businesses.
So where does that leave us?
In summary, during its nine months of existence, this government has repeatedly shown itself to be scandalously incompetent, undemocratic and motivated more by its own self-interest and the interests of its donors and business supporters than by its responsibility towards the public. Government popularity has accordingly plummeted, and trust in and support for the government is at a new low. There are just a few weeks until the pandemic crisis hits much harder in the winter months, and there are just four weeks left before the Brexit negotiations are due to end. Devolution arguments will come to the fore next year following new Scottish parliament elections. Environmental action is absolutely vital now at national and international level.
What we need to do is ….
It is abundantly clear that this government should leave office, and be replaced by a better one. How could this happen? There are two ways. One is via the traditional method of a vote of no confidence in parliament, leading, in the event of success, to a new election. This would take months, and is unlikely to succeed. The other way is for the government to be entirely honest with the public, accept that it has failed in so many vital ways, and invite in a completely new cabinet of all the talents and suspend the party whipping process. The existing cabinet would then resign. There would need to be a minimum representation from all regions of the country and all political parties.
This is not a matter of personalities or party advantage, which should be set aside in the interests of good governance for the whole country. The new cabinet would elect a new prime minister, and a handover period of say two weeks so that new ministers could take over efficiently from existing ministers’ briefs.
There are many well-qualified, experienced and talented people in the House of Commons and outside it who would be willing to serve in such a Government of National Unity. The speaker of the House of Commons could be asked to nominate the new cabinet. These people are well-known to most of us. There is an urgent need for speed. Constitutional experts and historians could advise on the precise method by which the unity governments of the past were formed, and how this new one could be.
I urge people to set aside their personal ambitions and party allegiances and agendas, and unite around a new unity government to work on behalf of the whole UK population to meet the extremely serious and urgent challenges we are facing.