I’m writing this shortly after Dominic Cummings made his statement to the press in Downing Street – yet another remarkable day in politics.
Like MPs up and down the country, I’ve been contacted by constituents who are angry and upset at Mr Cummings’ decision to drive his family to his parents’ home during the lockdown. While I can understand his concern for his family, I’m aware that many of my constituents have had to make very difficult decisions in recent weeks, including being apart from loved ones when they became sick or died, or have been unable to attend family funerals. Many have also expressed scepticism that a responsible parent worried about his ability to drive safely would take a 4-year old child on a test drive. Keir Starmer has called for Mr Cummings to resign or be sacked, and I will write to the prime minister to make sure he is aware of the strength of feeling among my constituents.
The chaos and arrogance of this government have been on display throughout the crisis. Delays in supplying PPE, the go-stop-go approach to testing and tracing, and the confused messaging have all put lives at risk. The decision on whether and when schools should open to more pupils has been appallingly handled too. I’m desperate to see children return to school as soon as possible – particularly the most disadvantaged children, whose learning will be most adversely affected by the lack of access to resources for learning at home. Heads are now doing an incredible job preparing for some pupils to return early next month, but it’s essential that plans are workable and safe. Teachers’ unions have made some very careful and sensible suggestions for how pupils could return gradually, but the government is determined to rush ahead to get pupils back from 1 June. In practice, in Trafford, half term means many won’t return until 10 June, which gives more time for planning, and the council and I will stand in support of any head who needs more time to prepare before it is safe to allow pupils back.
But most of all, I’ve been shocked this weekend by a report in the Sunday Times that showed that Boris Johnson’s delay in deciding to impose a lockdown, and then further delaying its introduction for a few more days once the decision had been made, led to the number of coronavirus cases rising by a shocking 1.3 million in 9 days in March, and undoubtedly contributed to more people becoming sick and dying than would have been the case if he had been swifter to act. This is a really shameful failure on the part of government, whose first duty is to keep its citizens safe. Of course, I understand concerns about the impact on the economy, but if we’d locked down sooner, and if we’d had the systems and kit in place to maintain testing, tracing and isolating of those who became sick, we would be coming out of lockdown sooner, and more safely – as other countries who took more decisive action already are.
I’m dismayed at the failings of our government. But locally, community groups have been doing an amazing job throughout the crisis, and I was very pleased to mark Eid this weekend with a personal thank you to my Muslim friends and constituents who have been given so much to support local people and organisations, with donations of food and essentials where they’ve been badly needed. And I was also very pleased to meet the volunteers at the Stretford community kitchen based at St Matthews’ church hall – they too are cooking and supplying food to vulnerable residents and groups. Thank you all for all you’ve done, and continue to do.