The fantasy of a ‘national unity government’ is a gift to Brexiters | Tom Kibasi | Opinion

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As politics descends into deeper chaos, more and more of those in Westminster have taken retreat in the imagination of their hearts. The unending speculation about a so-called “government of national unity” is the ultimate act of escapism: it provides deliverance from the chaos without the necessity of contact with the general public in an election.

The summit of ambition for such a government are politicians that reached the middle ranks of the coalition or New Labour governments, or perhaps those that have persisted in politics for long enough to see their Thatcher-era reputations laundered by the passage of time. It’s like fantasy football where given the choice of any players in the world, they alight on Derby County’s 2007-08 first team – a team that suffered the lowest points total in Premier League history.

The promoters of this fantasy are those that would wish away every aspect of politics since Ed Miliband’s defeat. It simply reveals the yearning of centrist remainers for a politics where their strong sense of entitlement is fulfilled, where the natural order of things – where the “sensible people” are in charge – is restored. It erases more than a decade of crisis, from the collapse of the economic model to austerity to Brexit.

The fantasies make space for Anna Soubry or Dominic Grieve but not a single member of the current Labour frontbench, let alone the Labour leader himself. At the same time, such a government is supposed to be sustained by the Labour party providing fully three-quarters of the votes to provide it with confidence and supply. It is simply delusional.

But it also speaks to the “WhatsAppification” of politics: gossipy MPs letting their imaginations run wild, underpinned by the tragic belief that if it could be Margaret Beckett, then one day it could be them. It puts on display the worst of Westminster: obsessed with who is up and who is down; captured by groupthink; and more concerned with the periphery rather than the heart of the matter. MPs do their reputations no good by fuelling such speculation.

In practice, there is little political logic for most opposition parties to allow a government of national unity to be formed. Most Liberal Democrat target seats are held by Tories; they need to show Conservative voters that they would not put Corbyn in Downing Street. The SNP has every incentive to say it would cooperate with Corbyn in the knowledge that the Lib Dems would never let it happen. The various independents – from both Labour and the Tories – have such personal animus towards the Labour leader and are so certain to lose their seats that they have no reason to play ball.

The only circumstances in which such a government could emerge would be if Boris Johnson were to resign rather than comply with the Benn Act. A prime minister would be needed whose only political task would be to notify Brussels that the UK was seeking an extension and then immediately move for a dissolution. They would enter Downing Street in the knowledge that the Tories, independents and Lib Dems would bring down the government through a confidence motion if they attempted to do anything else. Such a government would certainly not last long enough to organise a second referendum.

Moreover, remainers should be careful of what they wish for. It is hard to imagine a better set of circumstances for the leave campaign in a second referendum than a poll organised by political has-beens in a government that is disabled, unable to pass a budget, overseeing a continuing crisis, and lacking any public legitimacy. Indeed, there is every chance that a poll organised under such circumstances would be boycotted by leavers altogether, and that the Tory party would campaign in the general election that followed to respect the 2016 result. Then what?

Ultimately, remainers lack strategic clarity. The simple truth is this: the most likely way to stop Brexit is to elect a Labour government that will deliver a referendum. The most likely circumstances in which a referendum will be won is a government that ends the crippling austerity that has blighted so many lives. The most effective way to stop a referendum being about the expression of satisfaction with the government of the day is for the prime minister to sit out the campaign rather than front it. They may not like it, but the route to remain lies in a strong electoral performance for Labour.

Yet remainers have ceased to critically examine the best route to achieving the outcome they desire. When it comes to Brexit they have embraced the very form of politics that they claim to detest: expressive rather than instrumental, dogmatic rather than pragmatic. Do any remainers seriously believe that leave supporters are most likely to get the Brexit they want by voting for the Brexit party rather than the Tories? And yet many are prepared to vote for the Lib Dems because of their disillusionment with Corbyn’s seeming ambivalence about the EU. If remainers vote with their hearts rather than their heads they will be the unassuming midwives of Brexit. And no escapist fantasy will get Britain back into the EU if we ever leave.

Tom Kibasi writes in a personal capacity

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