On the growing chorus of voices calling for some kind of “national government”
28 Jul 2018There is a growing chorus of voices calling for some kind of “national government.” Sometimes it is expressed by saying that politicians should come together to deliver Brexit.
Alongside this there are whispers of moves to set up a new centre party which would incorporate politicians of all parties and none.
It is easy to see the superficial attraction of this kind of politics. The same argument is often used in relationship to the NHS. “If only,” people sigh, “we could take the politics out of health issues.”
The trouble is that, although politics has become almost a dirty word for much of the public, in truth there is no more intensely political subject than healthcare.
How much you are prepared to spend on your health service, what level of tax you are prepared to levy to pay for it, whether you are concerned about rising health inequality and, ultimately, who gets to live or die because of decisions made — these are political subjects where vastly different economic interests contend.
In the same way the idea that you can take the politics out of Brexit is delusional.
When people talk about the importance of forming a national government “in the national interest" I am concerned, because the question that must be asked is whose nation and in whose interest?
The assumption behind such a “national government” is that the interests of a hedge fund manager in Mayfair are the same as a single parent in Hackney, but they are not.
And the very real danger of a “national government” is that, inevitably, the interest of the poor and disadvantaged will get marginalised at a time when spiralling levels of poverty and inequality mean we need real change more than ever.
What for example would be the policy of such a “national government” in the current circumstances — or indeed that of a new “centre party” — towards continuing austerity and spending cuts?
It’s worth remembering — and should be regularly repeated to those with short memories — that between 2010 and 2015 the Liberal Democrats were prepared to sacrifice their policy stances on a range of issues, most notably student tuition fees, for being in a coalition with the Tories.
This coalition did nothing to help the majority of people but instead punished people through vicious austerity for a crisis that they did not create.
And you don’t need a crystal ball to see what such a “national government” would mean — just look at the history of the 1931 National Government.
It was set up to impose austerity “in the national interest.” It ushered in the grimmest of times for ordinary working people, who were to learn that “the national interest” was actually the interests of the banks, financial services and industrialists.
It also destroyed the reputation of Labour’s Ramsay Macdonald who served as prime minister of that government. He was deemed to have betrayed working people by fronting up what was essentially a project ofthe ruling classes.
So it amazes me that, knowing how disastrous for ordinary people the 1931 National Government was, some Labour politicians are apparently contemplating entering its 2018 version, especially as it would inevitably mean abandoning large parts of Labour’s popular 2017 For the Many Not the Few manifesto — an ambitious programme to transform Britain.
Now more than ever, we need to move beyond austerity and towards a policy of investing in our future.
But, of course, the overriding concern of Labour politicians contemplating a national governmentmay not even be the so-called national interest. It may be that the Labour politicians concerned see it as an effective method of blocking a Corbyn-led Labour government.
Perhaps it seems unbelievable to ordinary Labour supporters that there are Labour MPs who would rather serve in government with Tories than allow a left-led Labour party to take office. Sadly, this may be behind this mounting clamour for a national government.
What we actually need is a general election and for Labour to win it, if and when it is called. Only then can we move on from the disastrous Tory policies of recent years and build a better future for the many, not the few.
* From https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/establishment-grasps-straws