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Coffee House Steerpike

Eight contenders for the top job in a national unity government 

13 August 2019

1:49 PM

13 August 2019

1:49 PM

‘Only a government of national unity can deliver us from no deal,’ according to Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee. But who should lead it? In these turbulent times, Mr S considers eight challengers who might fancy their chances for the top job as national unity leader:

Caroline Lucas

Caroline Lucas faced embarrassment yesterday after floating the idea of a national unity government headed by an all-woman cabinet. Her proposal was quickly shot down by critics for not being diverse enough and Lucas was forced to make a grovelling apology. But Lucas insisted in her apology that ‘fresh thinking’ is still needed. Might she have herself in mind?

Nicholas Soames

Winston Churchill was the last leader of a national unity government, so might his grandson fancy following in the great man’s footsteps? Soames certainly has a thing or two to say about the current setup in Downing Street. Take his recent tweet telling Boris Johnson to #tellhimtoputasockinit (referring to No 10 chief of staff Dominic Cummings). A technologically literate veteran MP like Soames may be one to unite the generations. 

Dominic Grieve

The feud between two Dominics – Cummings versus Grieve – has served to bolster the profile of the arch Remainer. The former attorney general has spoken out against the idea that Boris Johnson could effectively ignore a vote of no confidence and press on towards a general election. And what’s more, Caroline Lucas even suggested that being a bloke was no barrier to Grieve finding a place in her proposed emergency Cabinet. Could it be Dominic Grieve’s moment to shine?

Anna Soubry

People’s Vote champion Anna Soubry knows a thing or two about being in charge of a rag tag bunch of misfits. Currently leader of the five-strong Change UK, could an upgrade to leader of the government be overdue? One sticking point might be having to patch things up with those she has alienated along the way, including the six former Tiggers who parted ways with Change UK and the Tories she left behind in her old party. Another problem might be her wafer-thin majority of only 1.5 per cent in 2017, which might mean PM Soubry becomes the first leader to lose their seat in an election since Arthur Balfour.

Ken Clarke

Father of the House Ken Clarke is a respected figure in the Commons. Outside Parliament, he has the public presence to match with the ultimate accolade on social media: a well-followed parody account (@MrKennethClarke). Who else can get away with fiscal conservatism and love for the European Union? Maybe it’s the cigars and jazz that give him a bit of edge. Might he be the man to answer Polly Toynbee’s call? 

Jo Swinson

With her party fresh from an impressive by-election win, Jo Swinson surely now has her eyes set on a bigger prize. Nick Cohen revealed on Coffee House last week that the Lib Dems and Greens are plotting non-aggression pacts in a bid to build a remain alliance. Could Swinson be the leader remainers have been waiting for? If she is, Swinson should be careful what she wishes for – and remember what happened the last time the Lib Dems entered a grand coalition.

John Major

John Major has emerged from his quiet retirement to put himself front and centre of the anti-Brexit debate. Since the referendum, Major has become something of a frequent fixture in the media. What’s more, as a former PM, Major’s Downing Street experience could count in his favour. But does Major have the patience to deal with the Tory bastards that caused him so much trouble the last time around?

Polly Toynbee

No one could accused Polly Toynbee of being a newcomer to the anti-Brexit, anti-Boris cause. Her criticism of Vote Leave and the PM has stayed consistent ever since the referendum. Toynbee’s column in the Guardian is essential reading for any self-respecting supporter of a national unity government. So could the House of Commons swap one journalist prime minister with another? Stranger things have happened.

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