George Freeman, Tory MP for Mid Norfolk, used Twitter to call for a wartime coalition style government, bringing the Labour shadow frontbench in. He specified that this only be genuinely considered once Labour had “serious leadership” in a week and a half’s time, but it was still a Conservative Member of Parliament calling for a temporary grand coalition to fight the CoVid crisis. Is this a good idea for the country, for the Tories, for the Labour Party?
The short term benefits to the country would be having all the best brains available round the table to figure out how to get out of this mess. This assumes that Starmer will bring MPs who are actually talented back into the shadow cabinet, Nandy, Phillips, Cooper, etc, while booting most of the current nutters to the backbenches, but that appears to be likely. It would also help bring the country together and stop partisan bickering about the government’s approach, making any laws easier to implement and with fewer people flouting the new rules.
The main short term benefit to the Conservative party of this arrangement is that if things get really bad, they aren’t the ones holding the bag. If both the Tories and Labour can be seen to be at “fault” for what happens during the crisis, then that’s better for the Tories who have a majority already. The short term downside for the Tories is the exact flip-side to this: that if we come out of this quickly and with minimum damage done from the stand point of where we are now, the Tories have to then share the glory. The other short term problem for the Conservatives is that they would have to agree to a Brexit extension, surely, to get Starmer and his team on board. This could be looked at as a another benefit to Johnson and his party, however; the extension looks inevitable anyhow and there is a chance to blame it both on the crisis and the Labour Party in one go.
The long term benefit of a grand wartime coalition, I think, would belong to Labour. The major problem Keir Starmer’s got as he looks set to become leader of the Labour Party is that he leads an organisation that has very little credibility. It has come to be seen as a party that has lost its collective marbles, destroying the big tent they had built up over a century to become some sort of Islingtonian art project. Starmer as deputy prime minister in a time of crisis has the opportunity of bringing Labour back that lost credibility very quickly. It has the potential power to wash away the mistakes of the last five years (or ten years if we’re being less generous here).
Boris Johnson likes to see himself as Churchill, as we all know. Wouldn’t it be the ultimate irony if he were to lose the next election like Churchill lost in ’45, ultimately because the wartime coalition that he led made it impossible to effectively attack the Labour Party? Clement Attlee had been a diligent deputy for most of the war, so when it came to the ’45 election, none of the Tory attack lines on Labour worked. We’ll have gestapo in the streets under Attlee! Really? No one was going to buy that when in Attlee they clearly saw a man who had helped Churchill win the war for the Allies; an obviously patriotic and level-headed bloke. All of the Tory attempts to hurt Attlee and his party just bounced off.
Could this be Starmer’s fate? We’ll see how bad things get and how unavoidable a grand coalition starts to feel once Starmer becomes leader of the opposition. But if I were working for the Labour leader, I would advise him heavily to jump into such an arrangement if it comes on offer.
In a few weeks time, I have another book coming out. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!
It’s out on April 9th, but you can pre-order here: