We are back under national covid restrictions, and I can imagine how disappointed and anxious many constituents will be feeling. Of course, the restrictions are necessary if we are to arrest the spread of the virus and ensure the NHS can cope through the challenging winter period. That’s why Labour voted in favour of the restrictions when they were considered by parliament on Wednesday. Later in the week, the chancellor announced yet another package of financial support, extending the furlough scheme until next March. But I know that many constituents, including the self-employed and those who own their own businesses, will be very worried about what the future holds.
Of course, the situation has been made tougher by the Prime Minister’s delay in taking action. His attempt to introduce regional lockdowns, which caused great bitterness in Greater Manchester and elsewhere, ran into the sand. He has finally accepted the advice of the scientific body, SAGE, to introduce a ‘circuit break’ across the whole country. Labour called for this as soon as we saw the SAGE advice last month; the Prime Minister’s dithering will undoubtedly mean we now face staying in restrictions for longer, and, sadly, more people will become seriously ill or die.
Schools, colleges and universities are not closing, however, Labour agrees that the best place for children to be is in school. The damage to their learning, and to their socio emotional wellbeing, of further prolonged absence and disruption to their education cannot be overstated. But schools, colleges and universities need more support from government if they’re to remain covid secure.
Parliament remains open too, although our staff are working from home unless absolutely necessary. I also intend to work at home unless my presence is essential, for example to speak in a debate. New rules introduced this week mean I don’t even need to attend to vote and can appoint a proxy to do so for me instead. I don’t think this is ideal, and can’t understand why we can’t return to online voting, as we did in the spring, and as the House of Lords continues to do. The proxy system is safer than joining a queue to vote with hundreds of other MPs, but if the Lords can embrace modern voting technology, surely the House of Commons can too.
This week, I have been contacted by many constituents with relatives in care homes, deeply upset that they can’t pay visits to their loved ones, and fearful of what this will mean for the mental health of vulnerable older people. I have so much sympathy for these concerns – I am in exactly in this situation myself, I haven’t been able to visit my 93-year old mum since February, and although we do our best to communicate on Skype, it is absolutely heartbreaking not to see her. I strongly support the charities who are pressing the government to find a solution that respects the dignity, emotional wellbeing, and safety of care home residents. The current rules are unworkable and cruel.
But I am pleased that the secretary of state for health has confirmed that people travelling abroad for the purpose of assisted dying will not break coronavirus travel rules. This is a small step forward in a campaign that I have long supported for choice at the end of life. Of course, there is still such a long way to go – it is cruel, and, frankly, cowardly, of this country to force those seeking an assisted death to have to go abroad, and to put their family members at risk of prosecution if they assist in enabling the wishes of a dying relative to be carried out. While not everyone will agree with me, reform of the law on assisted dying is something that has the support of the majority of people in this country. I hope our parliament will be brave, and build on this compassionate announcement by the government to look again at our laws on assisted dying, and embark on a wider conversation with the public about how we care for people at the end of their lives.
As I write, the outcome of the US election still isn’t known, and I am on tenterhooks waiting for the result. Donald Trump’s behaviour in the past couple of days has been typical of his whole presidency: bullying, dishonest, and contemptuous of democracy. It has been really chilling to hear Americans chanting ‘Stop the vote’; even more chilling when some cried ‘Lock her up’ about Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, who has been the subject of a kidnap plot, and whom President Trump repeatedly attacked. We desperately need America to be a beacon of liberal, democratic values in an increasingly dangerous world. By the time you read this, we may know the result – and I fervently hope the Trump nightmare will be nearing its end and Joe Biden will be on his way to the White House.