It's time for all parties to come together and create a national action plan to fight the coronavirus
A formal National Cobra would ensure the government, opposition, trade unions and business leaders work alongside charities and community leaders to work out how to best deal with the pandemic
Every day since the coronavirus hit Britain has brought something new that makes it feel like the world is turning on its head. The Tory chancellor, Rishi Sunak, praising the TUC for their help in negotiating the biggest borrowing measures since the Second World War was a sign that politics as usual has gone out of the window.
It was also a sign that the government is starting to get this right at last. It is time for all of us to throw out tribalism and work through this together.
Without the bold steps now taken over employment, hundreds of thousands of people would have lost their jobs, countless businesses would have folded and people’s livelihoods with them. It came a day late for one major employer in my constituency and thousands of people who work for them. When decisions are being made in real time, it shows how much every single day matters and why we now need to work together to get this right.
The NHS is fighting for time before the crisis escalates. Wards are being built as fast as possible and it is hoped that the army will be drafted in to help. Every critical-care bed or ventilator that is sourced now will reduce the eventual death toll. Hospitals are trying to free up beds, aided by councils and GPs who are themselves struggling to respond after a decade of austerity.
Charities that are badly needed to feed children who cannot go to school from Monday are facing funding cuts and potential closure, and urgently need help now. Millions of self-employed people have had a massive drop in income, with homes potentially at risk unless something happens fast. The business-loans scheme hasn’t even started and, unless we change the law quickly, directors will have a legal duty to file for insolvency. Every day counts.
That’s why I’m calling for a National Cobra – a formal structure that would ensure the government, opposition, trade unions and business leaders work alongside devolved governments, charities and community leaders to build a common national action plan and stand behind it. This would give us the ability to plan fast, with the input of those who best understand the challenges we face – not rely on plans drawn up by one party that are then revised and amended over days and weeks as the shortfalls begin to become clear. These are days and weeks we do not have.
What is the argument for keeping those who have dealt with similar, real-time crises – whether foot and mouth or the global financial crash – out of the room when decisions are being made? Why would you remove from the discussion the leaders who have built resilience in their own communities over a decade of austerity, when those same communities must be supported and called forward now to aid the national effort?
With parliament struggling to function, now is the moment to broaden the pool of decision makers, chuck out the old rules, and get our country through.
When this leadership contest started a lifetime ago in December, the possibility never crossed my mind that it would end with me calling for a national, cross-party effort alongside a government that has done so much to hurt our communities over the past decade. But these are not ordinary times and we will rise to this challenge and defeat this crisis the only way we have ever done it in history – together.