I’m writing this just after the Prime Minister has made his statement to the country on the government’s approach to easing the lockdown.
There are a number of disturbing features in what he said. The instruction to ‘Stay Home’ has been replaced with the imprecise advice to ‘Stay Alert’. I have no idea how we are meant to do that when the Prime Minister correctly describes coronavirus as ‘an invisible killer’.
We’re also told that if you can’t work at home, you should go back to work – but that you really shouldn’t use public transport to get there. This will put people in an impossible situation, worried they won’t be safe in their workplace, unsure how they’re meant to travel, anxious about their income if they don’t turn up to work.
And all this is against a backdrop of too few tests, a continuing shortage of PPE, and we still don’t know accurately how many people have been infected with, become sick, or died from contracting the virus. What we do know is that the situation remains deeply concerning, and we have a long, long way to go before normal life can resume.
Like everyone else, I believe we all need to come together in the face of this terrible virus. But it’s impossible not to be critical when the government has been too slow to act, its instructions are confusing, and people’s safety is at risk. MPs will be raising these concerns in parliament later – most of us will participate digitally, since we are among those fortunate enough to be able to work from home, thanks to the technical arrangements that have been put in place.
But even though strenuous efforts have been made to introduce arrangements for the digital parliament, they are insufficient to enable us to ask all the questions we want. Timing of debates and question sessions has been curtailed, we don’t have access to our second debating chamber in Westminster Hall, which means there’s a significant reduction in capacity, and we still can’t scrutinise legislation in committees, where the very detailed analysis can take place. Yet at this dangerous and difficult time, it’s never been more important for MPs to be able to do our job properly, so we can ask the questions that you want answered, and raise your concerns.
Meanwhile, I’m in awe of the many people who are making extraordinary efforts to get us through this crisis, and I was absolutely honoured to be invited to join key workers at Trafford General Hospital on Thursday evening to take part in a national ‘clap for our carers’, which was broadcast from all around different parts of the country. It was fitting that one of the locations should be the birthplace of the NHS. Social distancing was scrupulously observed, and the event was moving and uplifting: our thanks are owed to so many people, in so many walks of life, who are making an incredible contribution in so many different ways. We can never express our gratitude enough.