Even before the election delivered a hammer blow to the Tories, their ‘strong and stable’ mantra was coming back to bite. Now, their warning of a Labour-led ‘coalition of chaos’ is also rearing its head once again. Fresh from wrapping up their deal with the DUP, the Government is calling on the opposition to come together on Brexit and lend a helping hand. Theresa May will say the other parties should offer up their ideas and be prepared to ‘debate and discuss’ with the Government – not only on leaving the EU but on a host of other areas of policy as well. Damian Green used his Today interview this morning to make it clear that this offer isn’t just reserved for those on the Labour benches. He told Nick Robinson:
‘It’s not just addressed to Jeremy Corbyn. There are big issues facing this country – Brexit is obviously the overwhelming one – but there is counter-terrorism, workers rights, industrial strategy. Politicians from all parties are invited to contribute their ideas and that is a grown-up way of doing politics. I think a lot of your listeners would think actually if politicians just said ‘Why don’t we do this?’ about a particular national issue rather than just sit in the trenches and shell each other, then we might actually have better government.’
This ‘grown-up way of doing politics’ might appeal to some, yet it seems an innovative idea for a Government fresh from an election campaign spent trying (and failing) to shell the opposition. On one of the issues Green highlighted, for example – counter-terrorism – it was only a month ago, the Conservatives were accusing Jeremy Corbyn of attempting to ‘run from his record on counter-terrorism policy’. Now, all that is history. But will Labour be willing to forgive and forget? And why should they?
One of the difficulties for the Government was apparent immediately for Damian Green on the Today programme. Having called for other parties to come forward, he was on the attack, saying that Labour had effectively bungled their flagship policy on tuition fees. Admittedly, he did point out that Labour’s Angela Rayner had conceded herself that Labour’s policy would cost £100bn. But this proves the trouble for the Tories in balancing the task of distinguishing themselves from the opposition while trying to play nicely. It also makes it difficult not to be sceptical that Theresa May’s comments are just warm words from a battered and bruised Government desperate for the Parliamentary recess to finally come.
Admittedly though, there are some signs the Government really is listening to those they would previously have ignored. Damian Green defended continued austerity by saying that ‘we know that if you let public spending rip…(it) is unfair to future generations’. Sound familiar? That’s because David Cameron intervened last week that to say that ‘to let spending and borrowing rip’ would be selfish on the next generation. Perhaps the Government really is listening up after all.