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Fri, 27 November 2020

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We need united leadership, the prime minister must follow Wales’ lead

We need united leadership, the prime minister must follow Wales’ lead

The Prime Minister should offer the new Labour leader and other opposition party leaders the chance to join a Covid-19 Cabinet | PA Images

4 min read

The prime minister should follow the lead shown by devolved administrations and extend an olive branch.

Never has there been a more pressing need and urgency for united leadership than now. But whilst the UK government have collaborated with MPs from across the political divide in recent weeks, they have yet to fully reach out with an offer of full cooperation unlike the first minister for Wales. In Wales Mark Drakeford, the First Minister, has invited both Plaid Cymru’s leader Adam Price and the Welsh Conservative’s leader Paul Davies to the Welsh government’s Covid Core Group.  By following the example set by the first minister for Wales, the prime minister should offer the new Labour leader and other opposition party leaders the chance to join a covid-19 cabinet. 

It is not often politicians of all political persuasions have found themselves united in recent years. But the coronavirus is doing something no leader nor movement has been able to do in what has been several turbulent years. We have been united as a country around defeating a common enemy. 

Were it not for the destructive nature of the virus and the loss of life, we would certainly pause to celebrate our renewed sense of national unity. A common cause has rallied the common good in us all, epitomised none more so than by the service of our dedicated frontline workforce and the breakout of mass appreciation, with the country twice taking to the streets, windows and balconies to sound their support for nurses and carers, cleaners and shopworkers – and everyone in between helping to keep Britain moving.

First elected in 2017, I have spent my entire time as a member of parliament hurtling from one crisis to another, fighting battle after battle in parliament and in Cardiff North. After years of pain, the country needed a breakout of unity – regretfully it is not under positive circumstances. Whilst many pressing issues remain, from climate change to Brexit, rising poverty to discrimination, we cannot begin to fix those burning issues unless we successfully defeat and curtail this epidemic.

Our leaders must meet this moment, momentarily setting aside our differences, to join forces to overcome the crisis in front of us, to protect public health and provide the moral leadership the public need during unprecedented and uncertain times. No one knows how long this pandemic will last, but whilst the virus spreads and lives amongst us, the prime minister should offer the new Labour leader and other opposition leaders the opportunity to attend covid-19 briefings. This would demonstrate grown-up and mature collaboration the country desperately needs. In Wales both Price and Davies have accepted the invitation from Mark Drakeford.  

Whilst parliament is in recess, and questions remain as to how MPs will return safely to Westminster on 21st April, the prime minister should reach out to opposition leaders to provide useful insight, to share knowledge and to bolster cross-party cooperation. In the absence of Parliamentary scrutiny, extending an invitation to covid cabinet would provide MPs and the public with the knowledge that government accountability, scrutiny and transparency is being upheld. Some have questioned and denounced the idea that opposition leaders should support the government in this way. However, a forum of such kind would not hamper our ability to do our duty in scrutinising the government, it would facilitate scrutiny further and allow for valid concerns to be raised and addressed. 

With parliament in recess and the Coronavirus Emergency Measures Act giving government unprecedented powers over individual and collective freedoms, collaboration would ensure that the very fabric of our democracy and its function remain intact. If an invitation to join the covid cabinet is not possible or forthcoming, then the new leader of the opposition should be given dedicated time during daily 5pm Downing Street briefings to pose questions to the chosen government secretary of state. 

We live in unprecedented times, so we must explore unprecedented measures to ensure full accountability, scrutiny and transparency continues for the good of our country. The purpose of the office of prime minister is not to further the idolisation nor the consolidation of the prime minister’s powers, it is to unify the people of this country. The prime minister should follow the lead shown by devolved administrations and extend an olive branch.  

 

Anna McMorrin is Labour MP for Cardiff North.

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