Cross-party government worked in wartime—but this is not a war. Those clamouring for coalition should remember thatby David Owen / April 4, 2020 / Leave a comment
I am opposed to a coalition government.
Labour under Attlee opposed a coalition when the war started in 1939, believing the time was not right under Chamberlain, and no one knew how long what became known as the “phoney war “ would last. In May 1940 we did literally face our darkest hour. This was the time for a coalition. A cross-party movement of MPs had been building up to remove Chamberlain and many of them, but by no means all, wanted Churchill. He made it clear we were in for a long struggle over many years. This short compression of history—which I described in a book called Cabinet’s Finest Hour (Haus Publishing)—leads me to conclude that there are virtually no meaningful comparisons today with the First and Second World wars.
I doubt it is even wise to use the expression “war” to fight this virus. You use military might to fight wars, helped by science. You use science in many of its dimensions, not just medical, to control and possibly eradicate coronavirus, as we did to eradicate smallpox. The military can help with logistical support.
As soon as Boris Johnson comes out of isolation, he should invite the newly-elected Labour Leader into No 10 and welcome him to all Cobra meetings attended by the three heads of the devolved governments, and to other meetings where as leader of the official opposition he should be present. Some Cobra meetings are not going to be suitable because of genuine differences over facts among its participants, some of whom are officials not just ministers. In addition, the leader of the opposition should be encouraged to talk to any scientists they wish who are influencing government policy whether in or, as many scientists are, out of government, and discussion should also include the heads of all the emergency services.
The biggest area in which the coronavirus is different is that we will get a vaccine, and here I write as a lapsed doctor of medicine and as a neuroscientist who was more recently on the board for 15 years of Abbott Laboratories, a large company in Chicago. Academic and commercial scientists are now sharing information with unprecedented speed. A vaccine will control coronavirus and it may even be eradicated.
Some will argue that like war, there is…