It’s hard to find words for the events of the past week. The extraordinary force of the Black Lives Matter campaign around the world. The outrageous conduct of the UK government in suppressing part of a report into the shocking and disproportionately high level of COVID deaths among BAME communities. The deep alarm felt in our region that the R figure representing the rate of Covid reinfection has increased to more than 1, indicating that the spread of the disease is once again on the rise – even as the government was announcing the reopening of more businesses and schools. A 107% rise in the number of food parcels that foodbanks handed out for children, compared what this time last year. And the chaotic scenes in Westminster, as a one kilometre-long line of MPs queued up and down Westminster Hall and around the grounds outside to vote – something that we could more easily, more speedily, and more safely have done online, and which would have allowed all MPs, including those who are shielding, to participate.
In every one of these cases, Boris Johnson’s government bears responsibility. Desperate to pretend that it has a grip on the situation, ministers have been found wanting at every turn. Slow to order PPE, slow to put in place a testing and tracing process, in a rush to loosen restrictions that are saving lives, and apparently willing to overlook expert advice that doesn’t fit with the view of the world that they want. I feel a mix of despair, deep anger, and greater determination than ever to challenge and call out the failures of a government which is putting lives and livelihoods at risk.
I sense we’re at a turning point. There have been concerns and protests before about racial injustice. But this time, things feel different. In all sorts of meetings and conversations I’ve been in this week, people from different backgrounds and ethnicities wanted to talk about Black Lives Matter. Even if we don’t all feel able to attend the protests safely, there’s still a huge appetite to show solidarity and support. Online conversations have begun to open up among people wanting to discuss what they can do together to change things and make a difference. It’s a time of possibility and energy, as well as of anger and grief.
Meanwhile, people are noticing the failures of government, and their opinion of it has crashed. In March, the Tories were 26 points ahead of Labour, with a 55% approval rate for Boris Johnson’s government. This weekend, Opinium and Deltapoll have the Tories ahead by just 3%, while a Survation poll gives the party a 2% lead. Trust in the Conservatives has evaporated as their mismanagement of so many aspects of the COVID crisis are exposed.
In these difficult and frightening times, good people continue to do good things in our community. It was great to hear Louise from Flixton talking on Woman’s Hour this week about how she’d got involved in the WI, and gone on to volunteer at Stretford Foodbank. And I was really proud to hear the news that the Friends of Stretford Public Hall have won a Queen’s Award for voluntary service – that’s like getting the MBE for community groups and charities. The Friends have done an amazing job in recent years, taking on the running of the Public Hall, fundraising to refurbish the space, and turning it into a very popular community asset. Congratulations to everyone involved – I’m looking forward to the day that events can resume again, and we can meet up with friends and neighbours in its impressive and welcoming surroundings!