Send in the clowns
Last Tuesday, the circus that is Westminster was taken over by the clowns. Since lockdown I and 649 other MPs have been able take part in committees, meetings, debates and votes using the hybrid parliament that was established to fulfil these tasks. It was implemented quickly and was introduced as a temporary measure in case, once it was up and running, we encountered problems or reasons were found to desist from using it. The expectation was that after a successful temporary period we would extend the timeline, possibly until summer recess at the end of July.
Instead, what has happened is that Jacob Rees Moog in his capacity as Leader of the House ran the clock down and now wants to reinstate a physical parliament. Except it won’t be. Select committees, All-Party Parliamentary Groups and sundry other meetings can still take place virtually. What Mr Mogg wants is the House of Commons populated (maximum of 50 MPs at time) and physical voting to take place. That’s why on Tuesday MPs had to physically vote to determine if physically voting was safe! This is akin to Joseph Heller’s book Catch 22. If we go there, are we saying it is safe? Even if we go there to vote against it, because who would be daft enough to take part in a physical vote if it were not safe to do so? As the lobbies have been deemed unsafe, members stood in a queue and voted one at a time at the despatch box. Some found it harder to do than others. A full house of MPs will take one hour for each vote. The SNP did not put any pressure on anyone from our group to go. I chose not to go. I find it unfathomable that I am expected to travel to work in an environment that public health England and the Public and Commercial Services Union have deemed unsuitable. Worse than that staff will be required on site to support members. And then I am faced with the dilemma of staying in London over the weekends, something that I never do, or travelling home and potentially carry the virus back to my friends, family and constituents. And while Jacob Rees Mogg pines for the days when he can recline on the green benches once again, not even he will have missed the irony that the dusty old curmudgeons of the House of Lords have embraced a fully digital chamber. It is time to move forward and build on what has been created. After the COVID19 pandemic is over, we are not going back to the old normal and parliament should lead the way for progress, not remain stuck in the past. And not force me to put other citizens at additional risk from this terrible pandemic that has already taken over 40,000 lives.