The dust settles over 2017’s General Election. The Prime Minister has been taken hostage by her Cabinet and hasn’t been seen for days. The British electorate wearies at the prospect that, although Britain has been in a constant state of campaigning since 2014, it may not be over yet. For there is a hung Parliament and another election may well be on the cards.
Can the Conservatives form a long-term government?
As a minority government propped up by a confidence and supply deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, it looks as though the Tories will struggle to govern. Even if Mrs May is replaced – and she cannot be yet, because a leadership election now would hand the initiative to Corbyn to attempt to form his own government and also throw the beginnings of the Brexit negotiations into further disarray – negotiating Brexit may be impossible.
With no majority, any Conservative leader would need all of the party, plus all of the DUP, to vote with him or her in the Commons. But emboldened soft Brexiteers, who see May’s loss of her majority as the loss of a mandate for hard Brexit would not vote for a hard Brexit deal. Similarly the swivel-eyed loons who still make up a sizable portion of Tory MPs, are committed to crashing out of the EU and would not wave through a soft Brexit option.
Could a ‘progressive alliance’ form a government?
An emboldened Jeremy Corbyn appeared on the Andrew Marr Show looking like the cat who’d got the cream and declared that the Labour Party were ready to form a government. But is that possible?
The DUP are the Queenmakers, and they have sworn that they will do everything in their power to keep Corbyn, who they suspect of having pro-Sinn Féin sympathies, from number 10. Therefore even if the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the one Green MP got behind Labour to form a progressive alliance, they would still fall short of a majority.
A Government of National Unity?
The only option I could therefore see is a cross-party Government of National Unity, either in the style of a formal coalition made up of sections of all the parties, or on a vote-by vote basis.
This sounds crazy but it’s actually not as far-fetched as it sounds, as there is a precedent for cross-bench governing. After the collapse of the administration over how to deal with the Great Depression, King George V put together a National Unity Government which governed Britain from 1931 to 1940, and contained MPs from the Conservative, Liberal and Labour parties.
Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems are in favour of a soft Brexit. Ruth Davidson – who currently has her foot on Mrs May’s neck as the leader of the 13 Scottish Tory MPs – has said that “...it is incumbent on us to listen to other parties in Parliament, and people outside it, about the best way forward…”, calling for an “open Brexit” which puts “economic growth first”.
The possibility that the rest of the Tory party may be softening its stance on Brexit is supported by May appointing (or being forced to appoint) Damian Green as First Secretary of State – de-facto Deputy Prime Minister – and Gavin Barwell as her Chief of Staff: both pro-remain.
As the parties differ so much on many of the other issues, anything else would need to be put on hold over the next two years, with negotiating a soft Brexit the primary focus of this National Unity Government. At the end of the two year Article 50 period, another election could then be called.
With no clear winner in the elections, the parties need to work together over the next two years to negotiate a soft Brexit deal together. Queen Elizabeth is less politically active than her grandfather was, so it falls to the parties themselves: chiefly Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon, plus Ruth Davidson, to reach out and put together a government to send a delegation to negotiate in Brussels. This way they can get the best deal for Britain which enables us to both respect the result of the referendum but also prioritise jobs and the economy.