Analysis: Parties united

There are strange things afoot in British politics. Suddenly, the main parties want to work together to get the country safely through the economic storm.

The situation is not without precedent. It’s very common, in any country, for the political class to unite when there are grave threats to the state of the nation. Britain conducted the second world war under a coalition government, for instance. More recently, Tony Blair and Michael Howard could not compliment each other’s attitudes enough following the London terror attacks in 2005.

Certain events are of such significance that the main parties need to pool their talents. The global financial crisis, massively inflamed by Washington’s decision not to offer banks a $700 billion bailout, is one of those. If American banks start falling like dominos, as many analysts believe they will if there is no new agreement, the British financial system will come to the brink of collapse. There is every chance the entire British banking system could be nationalised. Quite simply, it would not be the Britain we know.

The combination of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat thinking on the crisis could result in some very interesting – and very effective – remedies. George Osborne’s focus on financial conservatism – including a watchdog to analyse the level of government debt – would compliment the government’s plans for a new regulatory framework for banks nicely. The right and left bases would be covered, with the Liberal Democrat’s economic prophet Vince Cable parachuted in to keep everything together.

There’s no point pretending, however, that the motivations of politicians ever free themselves entirely from the scheming world of party political advantage. The government’s approach has won them good poll results, partly from the ease with which they slip into the left-wing rhetoric necessary during such times, and partly because the Brown-Darling team remains the most trusted with the economy. The Lib Dems and especially the Conservatives are keen to piggy-back on that image and gain themselves some reflected sunshine. To do otherwise would leave the Lib Dems looking pointless, and the Conservatives irrelevant, as they berate the government for actions in the past while it is rolling up its sleeves and sorting out the present.

But whether the politicians are motivated by political advantage or not, the British public should feel pleased they have behaved far more impressively than their colleagues on the other side of the Atlantic. In Washington, it is becoming increasingly clear it was the interference of the presidential candidates – John McCain in particular – which scuppered attempts to agree on a bail-out package. The continued fighting between Republicans and Democrats over who is to blame for the current impasse should stand as an excellent working example of what British politicians must avoid if they are to escape the ire of the public.

Ian Dunt