Apologies for the erratic timing of recent blogs (last week, we managed to have it delivered to 2% of the mailing list, which then froze for 24 hours, so apologies if you received it as ‘old news’), but everything in our lives is erratic these days. This week, I’ve been blown off my usual timetable by the Easter bank holiday weekend – up till Thursday, I thought I had begun to get some routine into my new, remote, working life, but a rush of zoom calls, constituency queries and being invited to take up a role on the frontbench to develop our child poverty strategy quickly demonstrated that I’m not totally on top of it yet, as I failed to write my blog in time to get it out before Good Friday!
In fact, I expect I’ll soon have to adapt to more changes to my working life, as there has been considerable discussion over the past few days about how we can get parliament up and running again while the emergency continues. Nobody believes it will be safe for MPs and parliamentary staff to return physically to Westminster next week, when the Easter recess is due to end, but nobody thinks we ought not to be able to operate digitally now to ask questions of and scrutinise ministers. There are so many concerns and issues we want to raise: the continuing shortage of PPE and ventilators, inconsistent messages from ministers about testing for the virus, the review of whether the lockdown arrangements should continue after this week, the gaps in financial support for workers and businesses, policing in the lockdown, safety in the workplace, distribution of food parcels to the vulnerable and school meal vouchers for children who receive free school meals – to name just a few of the queries that have arrived in my inbox in the last few days.
But while in some ways I’m struggling with the shortage of time, in other ways, I’m finding there’s more time for pleasures that were generally crowded out when life was ‘normal’. My walk round the park each morning is a real treat, seeing the trees and plants come into bud – and having time for a chat (at a respectful 2 metre distance) with my neighbours. I’ve been looking at paintings, listening to music and watching theatre online, and it’s been great to see so many of our arts organisations posting so much wonderful digital material. And I’ve loved to see the rainbow pictures local children have displayed in their windows as a sign of hope, and to join my neighbours on our doorsteps on Thursday evenings to applaud our wonderful NHS and care workers. Even meeting friends on zoom is proving to be great fun – we all talk at once, of course, but then again, we did that too when we used to meet in person.
We owe a lot to those who are continuing to care for us during the emergency. This week, I’d like to offer a shoutout to As-Salaam Islamic centre in Stretford, who’ve been delivering food parcels to Trafford community hubs and to NHS staff, to supermarket staff and others keeping our key shops open (and to their delivery drivers), to our local funeral directors, who are offering their professional support at a time of exceptional difficulty for bereaved families, and to my own staff team, who are working flat out to answer constituents’ queries. If there’s a group of workers or volunteers you think deserve as special mention, let me know and I’ll try to acknowledge as many as I can during the crisis. Meantime, please keep safe and well, stay home, and help save lives.