On Monday, I was required to be in Parliament, responding from the Despatch Box on behalf of the Department for Work & Pensions. Parliament has been adapting to remote working where possible, with a hybrid system of MPs engaging via Zoom video conferencing and a small number of MPs physically present in the Chamber. Whilst clearly not ideal (with plans to return the majority of Parliament in a few weeks), it has allowed Parliamentary business to continue.
For the Zoom video conferencing MPs are getting increasingly creative with the screen backdrops, with a significant increase in Union flags post-VE Day celebrations. Some of the MPs though have had some notable failures. Heather Wheeler MP, one of the nicest MPs, was left very red faced. Having patiently waited for her turn to ask a question, she wrongly thought her video camera had stopped working midway through. In frustration she started bashing her keyboard and screen, with somewhat colourful, frustrated commentary. The camera hadn’t actually stopped working, with everyone simply watching on in amusement.
We have also seen the first remote votes. Despite lots of testing, a handful of MPs managed to vote the wrong way - heaven knows how, but they had some explaining to do with their respective Whips!
On a more serious note, whilst they are limiting the number of MPs needed to by physically in Parliament, it is interesting to see the measures being put in place ready for a full return – with social distancing markers and limits on how many people can be present in the Chamber and other areas at any one time. With 6,000+ people working in Parliament it will be a challenge, but I am sure that will be the case in many, many workplaces – but with sensible planning and a dose of common sense, we will be able to do it.
On Sunday, the Prime Minister addressed the nation on the implementation of a new five-level COVID Alert System to determine social distancing measures, with level one indicating the most relaxed lockdown measures and five requiring the most stringent.
The PM also set out a three-stage plan to transition out of lockdown and announced that the first stage had begun. Under Stage One of the plan, people who cannot work from home are being actively encouraged to return to work whilst, of course, observing strong social distancing rules. Other slight adjustments include being able to take unlimited exercise, sit in a park and enjoy the sunshine; and playing sports or fishing. The other two stages have also been set out but will be dependent on the five tests being met, which I mentioned in my previous article.
As the lockdown eases, we are all going to have to make adjustments. There will be frustrations, and I have seen it this week with many people asking why can we now do ‘x’, but not ‘y’ – often very reasonable challenges. However, the reality is, we are easing out the lockdown – as we keep the infection rates down, we can do more, and we can do it quicker – but we can’t go from a full, to no lockdown in one go. I really do thank everyone for their patience, their sacrifices and the willingness to stick by the rules (even if they don’t always immediately make sense). This is and will continue to make the difference. We will get through this!