A Grand Coalition could be the only way out of the current crisis

Could Sir Keir Starmer lead a government of national unity?

Dyfrig Jones

Reading today’s papers, it appears that June 11th is our National Day of Hot Takes. And, not wishing to feel left out from this important celebration of opinionation, I present to you my humble offering.

It is, in the tradition of the great hot take, simplistic, self-important and fantastical. It will be horrendously outdated in a matter of days. And is steeped in what you might term Borgen-ism: liberal centrist fantasism, based on the Danish political television drama where common sense prevails in the face of popular misjudgement.

Those of you that participate in the Welsh political twittersphere will be aware of a spat between Plaid Cymru (of which I am a member) and Labour that has been re-tweeted ad nauseam over the past few days.

It involves both the Welsh Labour Press account, and the account of Lee Waters, the Labour AM. Both decided to tweet comments that mocked Plaid Cymru’s assertion that we had had a successful election campaign, and that this was a good result for us.

Many Plaid Cymru members responded, not to defend the campaign as much as to accuse the Labour party of ingratitude – their view being that many Plaid Cymru supporters had voted tactically for Labour in this election, and were being thanked with condescension and derision.

I have my doubts about the extent to which the Labour result in Wales was due to Plaid Cymru voters lending their support to Labour – but that is for another article. What I think this particular twitter spat reveals is a more fundamental truth about last week’s election.

It is one in which every single party simultaneously had both a good and a bad result. This was Schrodinger’s election.

We, in Plaid Cymru, did have a good election – gaining Ceredigion, taking us from three to four seats, equalling our highest seat total ever. But we also failed to come close in our key target seats, and saw our share of the Welsh national vote fall to its lowest level in 20 years.

But likewise, Labour in Wales had both a good and a bad result. Yes, the figures are spectacular, with a huge share of the vote, and gains in vote share and seat numbers. But this was due to the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn, a leader whose authority in the Westminster parliament has been consistently undermined by prominent Welsh MPs.

The Welsh Labour campaign was based upon distancing themselves from Corbyn. They will undoubtedly claim that this was a vote of confidence in Carwyn Jones and his devolved government – but this is an act of spectacular self-delusion.

It was the Jez wot won it for Labour in Wales. They now face the challenge of working with a leader in Westminster that, on the whole, they loathe – but who has delivered Blair-like levels of popular support.

The only winners

This, of course, is not an uniquely Welsh situation. You can point to any of the parties of ‘Great Britain’ and say the same.

The SNP lost a far greater number of seats than expected, including Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson’s – but they remain the dominant party in Scotland.

The Lib Dems gained four seats, brought Vince Cable back into parliament, but lost both their former leader, and the whole of Wales.

On a British level, Labour exceeded all expectations, pushed the Tories into a minority government – but still managed to come a distant second in terms of overall seats.

And while the Tories took first place, their attempt to solidify their position of leadership has, instead, turned it to jelly.

The only party that currently looks like winners are the DUP. Having handed Theresa May her majority, it seems that they will now be allowed to reign supreme in Northern Ireland.

Vocal opposition to this sordid deal has, so far, concentrated on the DUP’s medieval attitude to women and sexual minorities. Of greater concern, to my mind, is the implications that this has for the peace process.

What incentive is there for the party to resume power-sharing in the devolved administration, if they are simply able to dictate terms directly to the Northern Ireland Office? And if there is no devolved power-sharing, what incentive is there for republicans to maintain the peace?

It seems unlikely that this deal will hold, and there is already talk of another election this year.

For those of us that have been out knocking doors over the past few months, we know that there is no appetite for this from either the electors or the candidates themselves. Is there, therefore, an alternative?

Unity

This is where I ask you to indulge my Borgen-ism.

Each party can point to ways in which it has won, but each has also undeniably lost. The voters have not unequivocally handed either major party the keys to Downing Street.

The left is calling for Theresa May to resign; the right is saying that they will never accept a government led by Corbyn.

So what if the Westminster found itself a Birgitte Nyborg, capable of brokering a deal that united all parties, in the national interest?

Clearly, neither Corbyn nor May could be prime minister, which begs the question: who would take their place?

There are figures in each party that are capable of finding common ground both with their own party’s core constituency (or in Labour’s case, insurgent wing), and the opposing parties.

Sir Keir Starmer has remained loyal to Corbyn, but also commands the respect of mainstream conservatives.

Anna Soubury was the first to publicly criticise Theresa May, post-election, and to position herself on something approaching the party’s center ground.
In doing so, she has probably made herself unelectable as leader, but may serve as a stalking horse, opening the field for others who wish to claim the One Nation mantle for themselves.

Loyalty to the previous leader is arguably less important in the historically regicidal Tory party, and the post-Thatcher party has shown itself willing to pluck leaders from relative obscurity.

This might be an advantage in finding a new leader palatable to, and capable of working with, the opposition – certainly, none of the current runners and riders are particularly promising in this respect.

But what of this fantasy government’s policy programme?  From the Tories’ side, it would involve accepting that austerity has failed; not only by deepening poverty and social division, but also failed to reduce the deficit.

It is hardly a capitulation to the far-left to accept that those governments that embraced a mild no-keynesian approach to the financial crisis have weathered the financial storm far better than the UK.

Labour have already, to a degree, capitulated to a core Tory demand, by accepting Brexit fundamentally on their terms.

John McDonells’ “Jobs Brexit”, keeping the UK outside the Single market, seems to accept the central logic of the Tories’ plan – that we should establish our own regulatory regime – despite the difference in the regulations that both parties would wish to see put in place.

The Brexit-Lexit consensus between the two main parties would, of course, make it difficult to bring the smaller parties of the left – my own included – into the fold. But a commitment to constitutional reform could offer sufficient enticement.

A genuine commitment to reforming the electoral system might entice the Lib Dems; as long as they could forgive the sins of the past. A shift towards greater powers for the devolved governments might bring the SNP and Plaid Cymru on board.

And considering the potential difficulties that the Sailsbury Convention presents in the event of a hung parliament, now could be the ideal opportunity for all parties to move forward with democratising the House of Lords.

The only way?

This may well be a flight of fancy, an absurd piece of speculative fiction.

But while a government of national unity is by far the least likely outcome, it may be the only way of averting two much likelier crises.

If the Tories bring the DUP into government, we may well see a fundamental fracturing of the political order that has held fast for a quarter century.

The post-war social democratic consensus gave way to the current neo-liberal one; on what foundation will the next political age be built, if its architects are a Tory party possessed by the ghost of UKIP, in league with the DUP?

Labour are now talking of attempting to bring down the government, but are also refusing to countenance a coalition of the left.

Defeating the Tory-DUP deal without offering a realistic alternative will only lead to another general election.

With the Brexit clock ticking, and no real certainty about the way in which the country would swing if asked to vote again, it is uncertainty that we can scarcely afford.

Fantastical as it may seem, a Grand Coalition may be the only realistic way out of our current crisis.

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