The Solution to COVID-19 for the Government | Dr. Gavin Hall
The United Kingdom is at, or fast approaching, a critical moment in its history. The age-old trade-off between security and liberty is in danger of being decisively turned in favour of security, which will have long-lasting and irrevocable implications for liberty. The Government is, however, constantly criticised for not only a failure to preserve liberty, but also for not providing enough security – whether this be in the form of testing, critical care beds, relaxation of lockdown, the timing of lockdown et cetera. The overarching conclusion that can be drawn is that substantial criticism will be levied at the Government, no matter what decisions are taken. There is, however, a way out, which benefits the national interest, in the broad sense, benefits the Prime Minister, and is politically astute.
When the United Kingdom has been confronted with great crisis – the First World War, the Second World War, and the aftermath of the Great Depression – the historic response has been to form a National Government, or Government of National Unity involving political parties of all hues. If we assume that the threat of COVID-19 is as great as the rhetoric and scientific briefings being made, 50,000 cases a day and 200 deaths forecast on 21st September 2020, is this comparable to two global wars, or the great depression? As anything, the argument rests on the referent object considered as a metric for analysis. In terms of fatalities then the argument becomes less convincing. Though, when the economic cost and the impact on people’s lives is considered, then it becomes clear that COVID can be considered as such an important crisis that extraordinary measures are needed to meet the challenge head on. Yes people will argue that the impact on people’s lives is caused by the Government’s response, but since 9/11 security has been continually been placed at the heart of decision-making and the public, as a result, shy away from risk at every opportunity. The result is the initial lockdown objective of Protect the NHS has morphed into no-one must die of COVID ever, which is totally impractical and unrealistic. These challenges, which affect the core fabric of society, will not dissipate simply by the presence of a National Government, but will importantly enable the Government – Executive and Legislative- to focus on minimising the effect the virus has, in terms of life, the economy, societal cohesion, and the very future of the nation state. No longer would the myriad of protest groups, everything from anti-Vaxxers to BLM, be able to align themselves as part of an ant-Government movement, when all political parties are part of the Government. They would, by definition, become movements solely of extremists and fantasists.
For the Prime Minister, bringing political opponents into Government, and implementing a National Government would ensure the potential to be considered one of the great Prime Ministers. A man who put country before party, before personal ambition. Yes, there would be undoubted criticism that the Government has failed to deliver an effective response to the crisis so far, and questions regarding competency, but these will be short term. For an individual with Churchillian aspirations it is clear that these aspirations cannot be met simply by darting from crisis to crisis, and continued critique that ensures that responses have to be considered in light of the potential reaction, as opposed to focusing on the best response to the problem. In short, a National Government will allow Boris Johnson to lead the country, as opposed to fluctuating between the differing whims of opposition point scoring.
The move would also be politically astute, as a National Government would ensure that any criticism of the response to COVID falls on the shoulders off all political parties. The evidence from the Coalition Government, 2010-2015, demonstrates that the Liberal Democrats received a far higher proportion of criticism for unpopular policies than the Conservatives. Not only would this benefit criticism of COVID, but also limit the criticism of BREXIT from being levied solely on the Conservative party. Furthermore, the inclusion of the SNP would also help the Unionist cause that the country is better as a United Kingdom. One may question why Kier Starmer, and the Labour Party, be prepared to embrace a National Government. Here lies the real genius behind the move. It would be impossible for Starmer to say no, or to withdraw from the role. Abandoning the country in its hour of need is a label that no politician can ever wear.
In summary, a National Government allows for a unified response for a substantial challenge. It will help to ensure that the message gets through that COVID is a serious crisis that requires a full national effort to solve, including individuals, that everyone really is in this together. It will help benefit the perception of the Prime Minister, as well as the Leader of the Opposition, as politicians worthy of historical note. It will help to ensure that the blame for failures is not solely laid square on the Conservative party, which will extend beyond COVID. Undertaking such a move would, hopefully, provide the foundation for constraining the expansion of security, at the expense of liberty. Specifically, the emergency powers, rushed through parliament in March, for the executive can be properly revisited and considered in light of a non-partisan executive, and ensure a role for the House of Commons in holding the Government to account.