Dehenna's Diary: Churchillian spirit will get us through the Covid-19 crisis
I MISSED the update from the Health Secretary to the House of Commons on Thursday as I had been drafted to sit on a Delegated Legislation Committee – which we call a “DL” for short. Whereas we usually debate and vote on full bills in the Commons chamber, DLs are smaller, usually made up of 17 MPs and an impartial chair, to debate and vote specifically on Statutory Instruments.
They always have very catchy titles – this time I was in the “Eight Delegated Legislation Committee on the Draft Protocol on Ireland/ Northern Ireland (Democratic Consent Process) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020”.
DLs are always focussed on a narrow issue, and you can learn a lot, hearing the minister and shadow minister debate the issue in great detail. Today, however, many of us were a little distracted.
As I arrived in the committee a few minutes early, I wasn’t the only one frantically checking my phone to see which tier our area had been placed into.
By the end of the committee, my phone was blowing up with messages from colleagues, my staff, journalists, and, most importantly, from local residents.
A short while later, and I was sitting in my empty office in Westminster, having just written the last sentence of my latest social media Covid update.
Each time there is a major change in the Covid regulations, I try to update my social media channels as quickly as possible to help make sure people are informed. As well as giving a rough outline of the changes, I also try to pre-empt as many questions as possible and provide answers right there and then. Today, it was questions like “why have we been lumped in with Newcastle” and “why are we Tier 3 but London is Tier 2”.
All very valid questions that I continue to raise with ministers and health officials, as I have since the start of the pandemic.
As for so many across our community, for me, this month has been largely solitary. My whole team have been working from home, so the office has been very quiet – which had the one advantage of being able to claim sole control of the office playlist! Parliament, though still sitting physically, is very quiet. Some MPs are shielding, or have family who are, but still continue to hold meetings via Zoom. Others are self-isolating. Some have taken up “proxy votes”, where they can still use Zoom to ask questions in the House and attend select committees, etc.
However, they do not need to be here to vote, having given their proxy to someone else – usually a party whip!
I chose not to take up a proxy vote. There are two main reasons. Firstly, because I believe that local residents elected me to vote on their behalf, not to delegate that important responsibility to someone else. But more importantly, because there is currently no provision for MPs who are not here to take part in debates. As such, it would have stopped me speaking in debates like this week’s about “Levelling Up in the Tees Valley” and last week’s on “Trade Deals and the NHS”.
Though Parliament is a ghost of its former self, and though most of my month has been sitting alone in my office, like many of us, I have embraced the Churchillian spirit of “keep b*******g on”.
And if there’s one thing I know about our incredible country, it is precisely that spirit that will get us through this pandemic.