A fantasy Cabinet for a better reality

By Bernadette Meaden
October 14, 2020

On top of its countless other failings, one of the features of our current government is an absence of fresh or original thinking. Faced with the enormous challenges of a pandemic, the climate emergency, and Brexit, they seem to completely lack the capacity to come up with the innovative or radical ideas we need to face an uncertain future.

So, to highlight some of the alternative thinking we could have in a government, I’ve drawn up a fantasy Cabinet. These individuals and small teams are not politicians, they’re people who represent different values and ideas. And it’s only a bit of fun for these disconcerting days. I haven’t done due diligence, and have probably missed some obvious outstanding candidates, but here goes…

Prime Minister: Professor Sir Michael Marmot. I think with Professor Marmot as PM we could become a healthier, happier country. Combining a distinguished medical and academic career with empathy and wisdom, Michael Marmot has a global reputation for his work on health inequalities. I feel sure he would govern in the interests of the entire country, and measure every government decision by how it would affect those with least advantage and privilege.

Treasury: Ann Pettifor. Possibly the only economist to predict the global banking crisis, Ann Pettifor was one of the leaders of the Jubilee 2000 campaign,  and helped devise the Green New Deal. As author of Just Money: how Society Can Break the Despotic Power of Finance she would ensure that money and the economy serve people, not the other way round. Miattah Fahnbulleh of the New Economics Foundation  which seeks to change the rules to make the economy work for everyone, would also provide fresh and innovative ideas for a fairer economy.

Home Office: I’d make Frank Cottrell-Boyce Home Secretary, as the antithesis of Priti Patel. The inclusive and generous values expressed in his books and screenplays are the ‘British Values’ I’d like to see permeate the country. I’d also appoint Danny Kushlick, previously of Reform, to address our disastrous approach to drugs, and to deal with immigration and asylum policy sensitively, Onjali Q Raúf, author of The Boy at the Back of the Class.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office: As Foreign Secretary, poet Jackie Kay, who is Scotland’s Makar and also Chancellor of the University of Salford, would develop positive relationships wherever possible, but draw a line where it needed to be drawn. 

International Trade Nick Dearden A campaigner for global economic justice for over 20 years, Nick Dearden is author of Trade Secrets: The truth about the US trade deal and how we can stop it. Any trade deals he signed would be ethical, friendly to the planet and beneficial to all parties.

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Carol Cadwalladr. Called a ‘crazy cat woman’ by Andrew Neil for her dogged pursuit of the truth about the campaign to leave the EU, Cadwalladr knows how the digital world can be utilised against truth and democracy, so would be vigilant in that area. Musician Cerys Matthews has a passion for her Welsh culture and language but embraces the culture and language of the entire world. Jurgen Klopp. No, he’s not a British citizen, but he’s an adopted Scouser. His inspiring leadership of Liverpool FC reflects his wider values of solidarity and compassion, and his infectious enthusiasm would help to get things done with a smile. I'd also appoint John Pring, of Disability News Service, to ensure that the perspective of disabled people was always represented.

Housing, Communities and Local Government: Architect George Clarke grew up on a council estate and appreciates the secure start in life that gave him. He made a documentary on how other European countries provide affordable decent housing which gives people a good quality of life, and is campaigning for the government to build 100,000 new council houses every year for the next 30 years. That is the kind of ambition we need to solve the housing crisis.  Tom Kibasi founded and chaired the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice so could be well placed to combat regional inequalities, and poet Lemn Sissay grew up in care, and would be a voice of compassion and empathy when decisions were made.

Health and Social Care: With the objective to protect and strengthen the NHS, Caroline Molloy of Open Democracy has a good understanding of NHS structures and finances, and the way it has been damaged in recent years. Devi Sridhar is Professor of Global Public Health at Edinburgh University and would ensure that the NHS was prepared to cope with any future pandemics, whilst  Harry Quilter-Pinner a co-author of the IPPR’s Social care: Free at the point of need - The case for free personal care in England so would take social care in the right direction.

Ministry of Justice: Doreen Lawrence understands the pain of victims of crime, and knows the harm that is caused when policing goes wrong. I’d also appoint  Alexandra Wilson, author of Black and White: A young barrister’s story of race and class in a broken justice system who could address many of the problems in our court system, and Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform would make our prisons more humane and effective, which would benefit the whole of society.

International Development: Ellen Teague has worked for the justice and peace movement for decades. She has a broad understanding of issues of international justice and the climate crisis, and would ensure that all aid served a progressive and sustainable purpose.

Transport: Xavier Brice from Sustrans would aim to make our transport systems sustainable, whilst the experience of Tanni-Grey Thompson as a disabled traveller would ensure that it was also truly accessible.

Environment, Food, Rural Affairs: Here I’d appoint Chris Packham, a tireless advocate for wildlife, and the habitat it needs to survive. Guy Shrubsole works at Friends of the Earth and is author of the book Who Owns England?: How we lost our land and how to take it back and set up a companion website He would strive to make land ownership and use throughout the UK more just. Sabine Goodwin, co-ordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network, knows about hunger in the UK, sees foodbanks as a necessary evil, and would strive to ensure that everybody has the means to eat properly without relying on charity. And for someone who has hands-on experience of farming but knows we need to change the way our food is produced, James Rebanks.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills: Priorities here would be to make business sustainable, ethical and conducive to national wellbeing. So I’d appoint Kate Raworth, creator of Doughnut Economics, a vision of the economy which provides for everyone’s needs without exceeding the capacity of the planet.

Department for Work and Pensions: After ten years of ideology which held poor people responsible for poverty, this department may be irredeemable. I’d replace it with a Department for Social Security, or Social Solidarity, which does what it says on the tin – creates a society in which people feel secure, and not worried that if they fall ill or lose their job, they will lose their dignity.  I’d appoint Dr. Simon Duffy of the Centre for Welfare Reform, as the antithesis of Iain Duncan Smith, and Dr Wanda Wyporska,  Executive Director of the Equality Trust which campaigns to reduce social and economic inequality. Also Marcus Rashford, because whenever social security is discussed, the voice of a person who has known poverty as a child should be heard.

Department for Education: Michael Rosen for his wisdom, empathy, imagination and, despite his recent brush with Covid, his sense of joy in reading and learning. Professor Alice Roberts would help break down barriers in science and technology, and David Olusoga would bring a realistic sense of Britain’s place in history.

Ministry of Defence: First priorities here would be to immediately cease any UK involvement in the conflict in Yemen, scrap Trident, properly look after veterans without them having to rely on charity and poppy sales, and to avoid any illegal or unnecessary military action. I’d appoint Kate Hudson, former General Secretary of CND.

In each department I'd also include at least one 'ordinary' person with experience of the issues. An unpaid carer in the DHSC for instance, so that when discussions became disconnnected from reality there would be someone to bring them back into the real world.


© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden


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