My parliamentary life has gone full digital this past week. On Wednesday I made my debut speech in the virtual chamber, in a debate on fire safety. It went fine, but it’s nothing like as lively as when we’re in the chamber for real – not least because other MPs can’t interrupt with questions, comments, or hectoring. Then on Thursday, we had a dummy run of online voting. That wasn’t quite so successful. The vote began at 4 pm, we had 15 minutes to cast our votes, and I got in very quickly to do so. But then the system froze, and the MP whatsapp group was full of complaints from colleagues who had been shut out of voting. By the time a second trial run took place on Friday, the technical hitches had been sorted. But this time I didn’t notice a message from the Labour whips, indicating our opposition to the motion – and, reasoning that it was only a test, and it wouldn’t matter how I voted, I cast my vote in favour. I was mortified to find I’d voted against the whip – as one of the ‘Brexit rebels’ in the previous parliament, I have to admit I have a bit of a track record of doing so, but I really didn’t want to make a habit of it, and it’s galling to have done it in error! Of course, there’s much less risk of that happening when we’re actually in parliament, as the whips stand by the doors to the voting lobbies to make sure we all go in the right one! But with online voting clearly here to stay for a while, and with another test coming up on Monday afternoon, I’ve got everything crossed that all goes smoothly from now on.
But I have to pay tribute to the parliamentary digital service, who have worked flat out since the lockdown started to get the virtual parliament up and running – a very big thank you to all of them! Waiting to take part in Wednesday’s debate, I was reassured to be contacted by an engineer well in advance, who talked me through how I’d be brought in to speak, checked my screen and audio links, and offered advice – put on your headset, raise your laptop in line with your face (two shoeboxes did the job for me, while my colleague Lilian Greenwood relied on tins of chopped tomatoes), and if you put your speaking notes on the screen and read them off, you will be looking straight into the camera. Clearly, these dodges were already well known to Batley and Spen MP Tracy Brabin, who turned in a very professional performance a few days earlier – but of course, she was a TV actor before being elected to parliament!
We marked two important dates last week. Tuesday was Workers Memorial Day, when we commemorate those who’ve lost their lives while doing their job. This year, it had a special poignancy, as we remembered the key workers who’ve died as a result of contracting coronavirus in the workplace. Each year, more people die at work than in wars, largely because their employers disregard their health and safety. MPs continue to hear of workplaces where employees aren’t being supplied with the necessary PPE, or kept at a safe distance from one another and the public during the coronavirus crisis. Trafford Council have been very helpful in taking up cases that I’ve raised with them in my constituency, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you’re worried about safety in your workplace. Meanwhile, Friday 1 May, May Day, is the traditional workers’ day, and I was pleased to join trade union friends in thanking all the workers who keep our country going.
And it’s great to see people continuing to go out each Thursday to clap for those who are working for us. It’s also a chance to see my neighbours – with most of my human contact conducted by zoom these days, it’s quite a treat to say hello to them in person! Stay well and safe this week, everybody!