Why stop at parliament? Let’s get rid of the whole government

A timeout will send a clear message to the world: Britain has not gone mad, we’re just drunk

Henry Mance

House of Commons, Houses of Parliament, London - Interior view of Commons Chamber, Architects: Sir Charles Barry and A. W Pugin. (Photo by Arcaid/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
The Houses of Parliament, London. Imagine there’s no cabinet. It’s easy if you try © Getty


History is one damn thing after another; British politics is lots of damn things all at once. As a BBC journalist helpfully explained in the run-up to the Iraq war: “It’s like a complicated game of bluff, except it’s not a game and they’re not bluffing.”

But I have an idea — a way out of the mayhem. Instead of arguing over whether to suspend parliament, could we not simply suspend the whole government instead? No new laws, no policy announcements, no ministers. Like a toddler timeout, but on a national scale. Or a long walk after a family argument. Meet back here once we’ve all calmed down, OK?

It is the common sense solution. Brexit means restoring faith in our democracy. How can we do this while Priti Patel and Gavin Williamson exercise cabinet responsibility? They’ll get over being sacked for a bit — it won’t be the first time.

To those who say that a government is essential, I say: Belgium. In 2011 Belgium set a world record — 541 days — for a country without an executive, and it survived. I say also: Italy. Its bond yields hit a record low after its government collapsed this month.

Democracy, said Winston Churchill, was the worst form of government except for all the others. But what about no government? He didn’t think of that. The era of big government is over, said Bill Clinton. He too wasn’t thinking laterally enough. Imagine there’s no cabinet. It’s easy if you try.

The suspension need not last long. Drunk people take a cold shower to sober up. Our government could do with a stomach pump and several months in a darkened room. The time will fly. Doesn’t it seem like yesterday that the UK was a normal country? It was three and a half years ago.

Of course the doom-mongers will talk down the opportunities of no government. They’ll say there are risks that simply cannot be managed. I call that Project Fear. Make no mistake — we will be ready.

In fact, Britain has been working tirelessly to prepare for a country of no government. For several years, our departments have been dedicated to not achieving anything. The Iraq war, the deficit plan, David Cameron’s immigration target, Theresa May’s burning injustices. Did we achieve any of our objectives? Absolutely not. We should be confident of a smooth transition to no government.

True, there are lots of useful things a government might do in Britain, but the current generation of politicians seems incapable of any of them. So let’s take a political version of the Hippocratic Oath — first, do no harm.

We won’t call any referendums, prematurely invoke Article 50, negotiate any universally unpopular withdrawal treaties, or organise any more state visits by US President Donald Trump. Our government-less country will be less headless chicken, more hibernating tortoise.

I admit that Brexit is a complicating factor. Downing Street’s insistence on leaving the EU on an arbitrary date — with or without a deal — is a bit like a bloke insisting on getting married next summer — whether or not he has found a partner. Would this strategy focus the minds of his Tinder dates? I’m not convinced. If anyone desperately needs to leave the EU on October 31, they can always take a cheap flight to Norway.

The business of the nation can obviously not cease completely. What will happen to the HS2 railway or Heathrow airport’s third runway? Here, too, we’re actually remarkably prepared for no government. Ministers have approved both projects without definitely committing to either. So if HS2 and Heathrow really want action, their best hope is to make progress while there is no government, in the hope that it will be too late to cancel the work once the executive is back. Genius, really.

You may wonder if all this is very democratic. Please, at least wait until you’ve seen the opinion polling. No government may be the one thing the public can all agree on.

A government timeout will send a clear message to the world. Britain is not irredeemably mad, we’re just rather drunk. And, to paraphrase Churchill, in a few months we’ll be sober again.

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