Diane Abbott. Image, Victoria Jones/PA Wire/PA Images
There 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. And 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 national government 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 is whose nation and whose interest? The assumption behind 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 danger of a national government is that, inevitably, the interest of the poor and disadvantaged get marginalised.
And you don’t need to look in the crystal ball on this, you only need to 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 the national government. He was deemed to have betrayed working people by fronting up what was essentially a project of the ruling classes.
So, it is amazing to me that, knowing how disastrous for ordinary people the 1931 National government was, some Labour politicians are apparently contemplating entering a 2018 version.
But of course, the overriding concern of Labour politicians contemplating a national government may 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 Jeremy 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. But, sadly, this may be behind this mounting clamour for a national government.