Widespread media coverage about the “return” of Parliament this week made many MPs smile because, for most of us, it never went away.
Easter recess has been the busiest on record for me and my team; handling an unprecedented level of correspondence and I want to thank constituents for their ongoing patience and (generally speaking) their courtesy and kindness as we continue to help as best we can. And I am grateful for your restraint in not contacting at this time about all the other things that still matter (like school funding or the climate crisis) to us locally. They haven’t been forgotten.
The advent of a virtual Parliament has been interesting and it’s been remarkable to be part of this latest extraordinary chapter in the 700 year history of our House of Commons. There have been teething problems of course but, as a short term (and it will be that) measure, it does the job.
This Spring marks ten years for me as your Member of Parliament and I’m using all the experience I’ve gained to help where I can at this time of national crisis. We are living in uncertain times that have curtailed our lives beyond imagination but, not least as a former Public Health Minister myself, I am confident the Government has acted on the best scientific advice in order to protect the NHS and save lives.
The measures taken may be temporary – and it remains critical we follow them to look after the most vulnerable in society – but the impact on our society and our economy will be felt for many years. I said at the outset that a radical public health strategy, to ensure we’ve an economy worth inheriting, must see an equally radical interventionalist economic response. To do whatever it takes.
And I am proud that this has happened whether it be the state paying workers’ wages, a wide range of support for businesses and charities, or help for the self-employed but there are those left behind and I’ve been raising those issues with Ministers every day.
For-instance, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is as unique as it is vast but there are problems around the cut off date, eligibility and this week I’ve been battling to clarify where early years providers stand after conflicting advice came from Government last weekend.
The Self-Employed Support Scheme is welcome and generous but there are many, not wealthy, left behind including those new to self-employment. The Government failed to recognise the difference between ‘sole traders’ and those who run small limited companies and, consequently, earn in a different way such as through dividends. I am fighting that corner and encouraging fast, albeit inelegant, solutions to the Chancellor.
Finally, I will in time will be using my experience in Government to stimulate a debate about public health and prevention; both at home and around the world. The reason we have differences of approach from country to country is because we have differences of governance. Some say Covid19 will be followed by a bigger, more potent, coronavirus but no-one knows when. My view is that, as a world community, we need to address issues such as food hygiene, early warning systems we can actually trust, capacity of things like PPE and testing as well as a consistent approach to treatment. Viruses do not respect boundaries, and they will come again, so the need for global public health leadership - with power as well as authority - has never been greater.
Steve Brine MP