Can We Rise Above Party?

A lot of speculation in these nervous post-election days as to how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will handle his continued life as PM – or if he will quit.

I wonder if he’s given any thought to the time Winston Churchill came close to being turfed from high office within days of being given the keys to No. 10 Downing Street.

I will let the New York Times bring readers up to date on events in the spring of 1940 “when British forces in Norway were overwhelmed by the Nazis. On May 7 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain faced a critical motion by the Labor opposition in the House of Commons. His Conservatives had a big majority. But a respected Conservative backbencher, Leopold Amery, rose and addressed to Chamberlain the words that Cromwell had said to the Long Parliament 300 years before:

”You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go!” Forty Conservatives voted against Chamberlain, and another 60 abstained. Three days later he resigned. Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. And many would say that the response of the Commons to crisis, its ability to rise above party, saved Britain.”

You will need to be getting along in years to personally recall those days in May,1940 when the world was falling apart. The German army and Luftwaffe were sweeping across Europe and heavy duty politicians with powerful Lord Halifax as peace maker were urging the war cabinet to seek peace with Hitler.The War Cabinet met to decided the next step – to seek peace  or fight a long war with a mighty foe?

Churchill, so recently appointed  won that battle then set about organizing a full strength war cabinet. He appointed Clement Atlee, already Deputy PM, as deputy head of his War Cabinet. As leader of the Labour Party, Atlee had often been the target of Churchillian wit (“He’s a sheep in sheep’s clothing.”) but; was obviously was highly regarded.

But, the appointment of Ernest Bevin, a tough working-class trade unionist and Churchill’s chief opponent in the bitter general strike of 1926, was a real eyebrow raiser. He was appointed Minister of Labour in 1940. He knew the trade union leaders; had been a leader among them for longer than a generation. He knew the employers, too. It was said of him that he respected many big business owners – and feared none.

That preamble brings me back to PM Trudeau and the immediate road ahead for himself and a new cabinet. He knows he will need support from losing parties – but how to get it without an eventual sulky separation like BC’s NDP and Greens after their brief fling as dance partners?

He can try for a similar deal with the NDP or, though less likely, the Bloc Quebecois, or the distressed Conservative Party preoccupied with its own failures and the breakaway of a renegade People’s Party which couldn’t win a seat but established base foundations in almost every riding and remains an embarrassing threat..

But, he might do better to try a Churchill and offer a cabinet post to a couple of New Democrats including one for Jagmeet Singh.

That was war time, for Churchill you say, and we all had to pull together. Precisely. We are in a war now – on two fronts against COVID-19 and global warming. Time to blure the party lines a little if we want to win. It would help to remember the NYT comment that it was “the Commons ability in time of crisis to rise above party” that saved Britain.

5 comments

  1. Putting Jagmeet Singh in cabinet would be a stroke of genius because it would force him to moderate some of his wilder proposals.

    But Singh is a clever man and would likely decline.

  2. Does this not describe at least some elements of proportional representation? I am so unhappy that the Trudeau Junior touted this pre-election in 2015 but quickly canned it. More than half of Canadian votes simply don’t count. How is that democracy?

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