There’s a positive story in the headlines today. Prime Minister Theresa May is due to make her first major speech tomorrow after an election that dramatically reduced her majority. She is planning to invite the other parties to contribute more, and encourage more cross-party working.
This is an entirely sensible response to the election result. The country didn’t give any one party the right to govern on their own, so a more cooperative approach is exactly the right way to interpret that reduced majority. But it’s also the right thing to do regardless. No one has a monopoly on good ideas. There are plenty of big issues that need a national conversation and broad agreement on how to move forward – such as security, education, or climate change. Working cross-party on these issues allows for a longer term perspective, and avoids the waste and disruption of successive governments undoing each other’s work.
Chief among these issues is Britain’s future outside of the EU. As I’ve written about before, the time for a wider conversation was after the vote, not after triggering Article 50 and beginning negotiations on a hardline and self-destructive footing. But better late than never.
There’s another good reason for our politicians to be working together more: this is the future of politics. We don’t vote down neat red and blue dividing lines any more, and political opinions are more varied than they used to be. Our electoral system doesn’t reflect that, which is why the last three elections have failed to deliver a clear and strong winner. 2010 gave us a coalition. 2015 delivered a Conservative government with a small majority, and increasing it was the main reason for calling this year’s election – which has given us another coalition.
This can’t go on forever. Change will come. Our systems will catch up with most advanced economies, where cross-party working is normal. The idea of strong majority governments taking turns is over, and the future lies in more cooperative forms of government.
In that sense, Theresa May is doing the right thing, even if she has been forced into it by a humbling election result. Labour’s response has so far been unhelpful, treating the idea with scorn.
That’s par for the course. We have a parliamentary culture where our two main parties sit opposite each other and literally bray like asses at any sign of weakness from the other side. The general public hates this. It is not how professional people behave in any other line of work. It is not how adults treat each other or speak to each other. The petty point-scoring of oppositional politics is one of the main reasons why people don’t like or trust politicians, and to his credit, Jeremy Corbyn did at least attempt to address this in Prime Minister’s Questions. All the more reason to do better when asked to contribute ideas and work together – and I hope we get a more grown-up response after the speech tomorrow.
In the interests of that adult conversation, tag your MP today on social media today and say that you support cross-party working. Reply to anyone crowing over it and tell them to get with the programme. The future lies this way.
- Feature image by Thomas Kelley