As Britain enters a vital chapter in its history, having to redefine the way we trade with the rest of the world within a timeframe of two years, it is fair to say that the government should be steering clear of unnecessary distractions. Now that the country is in the process of cutting ties with the European Union and has, as yet, prepared no new formal trade partnership, it is of paramount importance that an image of unity is portrayed to the rest of the world as their leaders measure up how generous they need to be in trade discussions. Therefore, for Cabinet ministers to be shunning the convention of collective ministerial responsibility and openly contradicting each other seems to be pure madness.
A pessimist might say that there is now nothing the country could do to portray an image of unity, what with the debacle of the general election which has shown the nation to be so divided that we cannot select a single party to oversee such an important period. Certainly, it is true that united has not been the word you would use to describe the UK in recent years, with the Scottish Independence Referendum, the EU Referendum, two Labour Leadership elections, and now the General Election all leaving the electorate bitterly divided since 2014. However, the population must at least try to look united – or at least willing to compromise – from the viewpoint of an outsider so that other nations and organisations go into negotiations with Britain feeling that they need to make some concessions, rather than simply walking all over the country in disarray over the next two years.
This may be easier said than done, as it would be very difficult to persuade people to get behind a common leader who they do not necessarily agree with, especially with the continued work of people such as Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins, who are doing their very best to divide the country as much as possible. However, one thing which can definitely be done is for the people in charge of the country to compromise in order to represent the Conservative party as a whole rather than their own agendas. Every one of the ministers in the Cabinet were elected to Parliament based on the party they stood for and the manifesto they promised to implement (however poorly put together it was) so there is no excuse for them to try and distance themselves from particular areas of government policy or particular members of the Cabinet when in front of the media. Putting up a united front is the only way in which those in charge can look ‘strong and stable’ now that they have lost their majority, but the current infighting is making them look more chaotic by the day.
The reason Cabinet ministers are so reluctant to get behind government policy, of course, is that they do not want to associate themselves too clearly with Theresa May’s government. The Prime Minister is now a hostage in Downing Street and is doomed to descend into irrelevance just as soon as the Conservative party decide they are finished with her. Seeing as politicians are not generally known for their selflessness, it is unsurprising, therefore, that the Cabinet ministers are doing their utmost to ensure that they do not go down with the ship when that moment inevitably comes. They have decided that the best way they can do that is by publically trying to gain favour with the public and ensure that their political careers are not ended at the same time as the Prime Minister’s. In short, they are putting their own long-term careers in front of the present success of government policies.
It seems that ministers would rather fail in securing a positive Brexit but preserve their own careers for a few more years than have to risk sacrificing their jobs in service to their country. They obviously see it as prioritising the long-term over the short-term, but they do not seem to realise that the current government will have very long-term consequences. If they do not completely apply themselves to getting the best Brexit possible, they will forever be blamed for the detrimental effect they have on their nation, and their reputation will be tarnished to their dying day. They will have a far better chance of being able to continue their political careers if they are known for having made sacrifices for the benefit of the country than if they are known for obstructing the government’s efforts. The electorate are not stupid, and they will seize upon any misguided attempt to prioritise their own careers over the country.
In response to this, ministers might defend themselves by saying that, by speaking out against the government, they are not seriously jeopardising the country’s position going into Brexit negotiations as they can still have effective government without religiously sticking to collective responsibility in the Cabinet. However, in their heart of hearts, they know this to be untrue. They were the first ones over the last couple of years to gleefully comment on how weak and disorganised the Labour party was up until the recent election. With every MP and shadow minister doing their own thing and the leader being unable to control his party (unsurprisingly seeing as he was a rebel himself), the Labour party could not give any kind of strong opposition to the Tories. This is what will happen if the Conservative ministers continue to sing from their own hymn sheets, and they can’t rely on a strong leader to keep them in line.
At the moment, we are in danger of going into hugely significant negotiations with a divided government, as well as a divided country. Some might say that Theresa May’s government is already dysfunctional, but they must do everything in their power to get themselves in the best bargaining position possible. To do this, the ministers currently in power – or new ones if they refuse to conform with the government’s agenda – must bite the bullet and unite behind the Prime Minister, showing as much unity as they can muster. In this case, more than any other, it is vital that ministers show some team spirit and can see past their own careers to the bigger picture as far as Britain is concerned.