When the clocks go forward, and Easter comes into view, then there is always a slight quickening of the pulse. Perhaps more so this year, as the milestones of exiting lockdown start being passed.
Being able to meet up to two households and six people in a garden or outdoor setting might seem like not that much of a step forward. But to families who have not had contact for months, it will be. Equally, those who participate in outdoor sports will welcome the renewal of social ties that that brings. And those who look forward to gyms reopening will know they have only to wait a fortnight.
Unfortunately, as we have kept on learning and relearning, this virus is a global phenomenon. We may be making pretty good progress with our vaccination programme, but much of the rest of Europe seems to be facing a third wave at the same time as a slower vaccination rate. For those of us looking forward to foreign trips, none of us can be certain quite yet of what will occur. Even if the UK government relaxes restrictions on overseas travel, that doesn’t mean the countries to which we might wish to travel open our borders to us. I fervently hope we can enable people to travel more freely – but I also know I for one am being cautious in not making bookings. It is an immensely difficult balance to strike.
And understanding the trade-offs is something Ministers are going to have to do. As more of us are fully vaccinated, the voices demanding the removal of remaining freedoms is only going to increase.
Hopefully that discussion is something that can take place more widely in Parliament. We’re still waiting to hear when we can return properly, with free seating in the Chamber, allowing us to intervene on Ministers, and question them, without the reliance on having your name picked out of a hat to ask a single question.
It is not as if Parliament and Government haven’t been busy. Being able to participate in debates from the comfort of my Bispham home might seem like convenience – but because of that ‘convenience’ more than ever are applying to take part in debates, and so debates are over-subscribed and the first forty or so in any debate get three minutes. Given the significance of so many of these debates, quantity is certainly suffering alongside quality.
But Government moves forward – and it is actually quite striking how much the Government has initiated or responded to in recent weeks. The Chancellor delivered a Budget – though he has to make so many financial statements over the past year, this one lacked the attention-grabbing factor Budgets normally do. But policies like extending furlough and including more (but by no means all) of the self-employed in the Income Support Scheme are fundamental – it is almost that we have become so accustomed to them that we no longer notice.
It took a tragedy on the streets of South London to highlight the continuing challenges women face on a daily basis across the country. Women need to feel safe day and night. And we know domestic violence has increased significantly during the pandemic. And we know that too many women still feel unsafe, especially when alone, on the streets. Blackpool is making progress – progressively closing down strip clubs, for example – but more can always be done. This matters as much in Blackpool and Cleveleys as it does in London. Women should feel safe everywhere, in their homes and on the streets. I’ve already asked via social media for views on what might be needed locally - from better street lighting to more systemic changes – but feel free to contribute.
The sad events, not least the controversy over the policing of the Vigil, risked overshadowing the difficult issues that are coming into focus over how we best teach young people to show respect to each other.
The public debate also occurred at a time when Government was launching its Police & Courts Bill, one very controversial element of which were proposals to place ‘static’ protests on the same legal level as ‘protest marches’ with the same requirements for pre-notification and so on. I know some were concerned that this was an attempt to stop all protests – far from it – and some were equally concerned that covid regulations meant there should be no protests at all. But the Bill looks to a time when the covid regulations are no longer with us, and it is sensible that we balance our freedom of speech and freedom to make our voice heard with someone else’s freedom to go about their lawful business unhindered – and when the two clash, such as when someone glues themselves to your tube train so you can’t get to work, it is right that the laws which already apply to a moving protest such as a march are updated to also cover static protests.
Another response to a controversial and difficult issue has been the Sovereign Borders Bill which has also just commenced its journey through Parliament. It contains numerous measures to discourage crossings of the Channel by small boats. As the Home Secretary herself says, “access to the UK’s asylum system should be based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers. For the first time, how someone enters the UK will impact on how their claim progresses and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful”. I am sure there will be controversies, but my fundamental stance is that we cannot have a mature discussion about asylum and immigration until we can have confidence our borders are secure – otherwise there is no guarantee that a particular policy can be put into practice.
On a more upbeat note, it was great to hear that both Blackpool and Cleveleys will be able to benefit from £200,000 each (as we’re also coastal towns) from the Government’s Welcome Back fund to help restart our local tourist economies for visitors to Blackpool and Cleveleys after June 17th. Lots of creativity will be needed as to how we spend it though. Events, marquees, safe spaces, outdoor seating …all ideas welcome.
Our mailing address is:
Paul Maynard MP
RM 11, BTMC
Blackpool, Lancashire FY2 0JW
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