Personally Speaking - May 2020

Adjusting to the New Normal.

 

During the last few weeks, the way we communicate has had to change. Whether you are working from home or furloughed, shielding yourself or vulnerable loved ones or looking after children, parents or patients, the need to have a hug with friends and family in other households has never been greater and yet impossible as we have all done our best to keep safe and protect the NHS.

As the local Member of Parliament in Stoke Central, this has meant that my office was closed, visits cancelled and attendance at Westminster suspended. However, from our homes, my team and I have been working harder than ever to remain in touch with constituents via email and phone calls, as well as the now indispensable Zoom or Teams meetings online, so that I can share the latest government guidance, help with your issues and pass on your concerns to Ministers.

However, in addition to the extraordinary challenges the government has been dealing with to tackle the pandemic, the regular business of Parliament has continued during lockdown. In order for this to happen, hybrid proceedings have been put in place which allow Members of Parliament to vote and to speak in the Chamber remotely. For an Institution that has resisted modernisation for centuries, this change has not been without its teething problems. It has highlighted the connectivity challenges in some parts of the country. I experienced such problems myself this week, when I was successful in the ballot to speak in a debate only to lose connection to the Chamber half an hour before my allotted time. Fortunately, the connection came back in time for me to speak on the Trade Bill.

As lockdown is slowly easing, I understand the worry many people have that we still don’t feel safe. At the same time, our children’s education is suffering, many are struggling with their mental health after so long in isolation, and others worry about their jobs or businesses and the effect on the economy if we don’t move into the recovery phase soon. However, we also know that this is a new virus and, whilst we have been following the best scientific advice, we cannot be sure whether there will be a second wave or whether the R number will go up again once we start to travel more, once shops and leisure businesses open and we have more contact with others. We will need to be cautious and maintain the social distancing that we have been practising so effectively in the last few weeks, and I remain optimistic that the progress we are making with testing, plus the introduction of track and trace in the coming weeks, and the work on developing an effective vaccine will all help stop the spread this terrible virus.

Throughout the pandemic there has been a huge effort by community groups, charities and the City Council with an army of volunteers to ensure the vulnerable are fed whilst shielding, the street homeless are housed, teachers have made it possible for children to learn at home, local universities and businesses have risen to the challenge with research and manufacturing of PPE, local Foundations and philanthropists have donated millions to NHS charities and of course we all clap weekly in recognition of our fantastic frontline workers. As we move to the “new normal” I hope we do not forget that sense of community spirit and the connectedness we shared during this strange time of isolation and that we remember the kindness of neighbours and strangers.

Let’s continue to check in regularly with friends and family as we did when we had time on our hands and nowhere to go. I certainly plan to make the Sunday Zoom meeting with my children and grandchildren a permanent event. Let’s remember what we’ve learnt during lockdown and value the green spaces where we could enjoy exercise as a welcome escape from captivity and the new skills we learnt – from knitting to baking. Let’s remember the silver lining to the very large cloud that is Coronavirus.

 

Article featured in The Sentinel, May 2020.