Once again, my weekly blog has migrated from its usual slot on a Friday. I’ve realised that’s because when parliament is sitting, I generally write it on a Thursday evening on the train home from London. Obviously, I’ve not had that opportunity in recent weeks, and I’m having to make time at the weekend!
But parliament is going to resume this week – albeit mostly digitally, and I won’t be attending in person. We will however be able to hold online committee meetings and to ask questions of government ministers, including Prime Minister’s Questions – although there will be a restriction on the number of MPs who can do that each day, and as you can imagine, we’re already arguing about which of us should be at the head of the queue! We’re also hoping for announcements soon about whether we’ll be able to hold digital debates and online voting. To our chagrin, it looks as if the House of Lords has got ahead of us, and will start to hold debates this week – the Commons doesn’t like being upstaged, so I hope we’ll catch up quickly.
I can’t quite imagine how PMQs is going to work, not least because the Prime Minister won’t be answering the questions, as he is still recovering from coronavirus, and we’ll be making do with Dominic Raab as a stand-in. Though, as we’ve discovered, Johnson hadn’t been all that active even before his illness, missing 5 meetings of the emergency COBRA committee that’s steering us through the crisis. It’s quite incredible to think that the Prime Minister hasn’t taken personal charge of the meetings, and indeed the more we’ve learned about how the government has handled the crisis, the more shocked I’ve felt at their carelessness, slow response and wrong-headed decision-making. Of course the unknown behaviour of the virus creates a very challenging situation, but the shortage of personal protective equipment and ventilators, the gaps in income protection for workers, businesses and the self-employed, and the failure to test and trace those displaying symptoms are all down to government failure.
Schools should also have been returning this week, and there’s now considerable discussion about when children can go back to the classroom. This is a difficult decision, safety must be the first priority, but we’re all desperately worried about children missing out of their education, especially those from disadvantaged families who will struggle to get access to all the resources they need and may lack space at home to study. I’m also very concerned that a number of nurseries and childminders have been forced to close, and some may not ever be able to reopen. Excellent educational settings offer more than just top-quality learning, they’re so important for children’s socio-emotional development and general wellbeing. I’m working with frontbench colleagues to prioritise the needs of children and young people in the emergency, and afterwards as we enter the recovery. Today, I’ve written an article about this for The House magazine, which you can read at https://www.politicshome.com/thehouse/article/more-action-is-needed-to-stop-families-going-hungry-during-the-coronavirus-crisis
In the meantime, businesses, community groups and local people are working hard to fill the gaps in provision. Each week during the crisis, I’ll acknowledge some of those who are making a difference, so please send me your suggestions! This week, I’d like to pay tribute to three very large businesses that are helping to get supplies of food and other hygiene products to where they’re desperately needed: thank you to L’Oréal and Kellogg’s, who both have factories on Trafford Park, and Sainsbury’s, for their donation to Trafford Council. And I’d also like to commend Linda Crabstick, House Manager at The Hawthorns in Stretford, who has been nominated as one of BBC North West Tonight’s Everyday Heroes of the coronavirus crisis. I’m delighted to share a lovely photo of Linda receiving her certificate of nomination.