In a shock turn of events that surprised… well, they surprised absolutely no one: an MP, a cabinet minster no less, has had to go into isolation and get tested for coronavirus the day after MPs voted to abolish the hybrid parliament. Whilst I didn’t expect to be proved right quite so quickly, this does highlight the sheer stupidity coming from government benches as the Leader of the House bangs on about getting back to normal.
It is evident that it was not safe for MPs to return. Still there are only fifty allowed in the chamber at any time, but Westminster boasts one of the most archaic and ineffective methods of voting in any democratic institution in the world. For an MP to vote on a piece of legislation in the time of COVID, they must first join a winding queue almost a kilometre long (in order to meet social distancing regulations) which snakes its way through Westminster and out on to the street. All this so they can shuffle their way along and give their name to a clerk at the end of the line. This took almost an hour and a half to vote down one amendment – an amendment funnily enough which would have allowed the hybrid proceedings to remain.
Supporting the amendment would have meant keeping a parliament which appeared to finally be dragging itself out of the eighteenth century, a parliament where the elderly, the infirm, the pregnant and the immunosuppressed amongst our elected representatives would have been able to vote without endangering themselves or those around them. This would have meant keeping a parliament where the time it took to vote would be only fifteen minutes and not the absurd hour and a half outlined above. This would have meant keeping a parliament where our MPs could represent their constituencies from their constituencies, where many would not have to travel hundreds of miles – be it by car, bus, train or plane – simply to appease the obsession with tradition that the right honourable member for the eighteenth century, Jacob Rees-Mogg, can’t seem to shake.
Westminster is a laughing stock around the world, and rightly so. Recent events have highlighted just how ineffective the United Kingdom’s chief democratic institution is. The only plausible reasoning for the government telling MPs to return, and notably not making provisions for those who are unable to safely make their way to London, is that they want to put on a show. To try and convince people in England that they should go back to work and send their children back to school, despite advice from medical professionals that it is not yet safe and 1500 schools refusing to reopen over safety concerns.
This is yet another example of a government which is out of touch, which cares more about what it appears to be doing than what it is actually doing. At time of writing, Alok Sharma has confirmed that he tested negative for COVID-19 yet this incident still serves to highlight the greater issue here. If parliament has been back only a week, and already there has been serious cause for concern, what hope can this give for the coming weeks, let alone months? This is a symptom of this government’s callousness and indifference toward anything that doesn’t improve their image or suggest that they have handled this crisis well.
They are an embarrassment. If this happens again then Rees-Mogg’s and the Conservatives’ reckless and needless decision could result in the entire cabinet and much of parliament having to go into self-isolation at a time when holding the government to account has never been so critical.
Image: Chris McAndrew via Wikicommons