Monday 21st September Cases of Covid are on the rise, and new measures are expected to be brought in to try to stem the virus. My thoughts as I travel to Westminster are about the balance between protecting lives, livelihoods and liberty. None of the decisions that we face are easy, increasing restrictions on movement will hit jobs, but not doing so will result in more loss of life. It is my birthday, and a flutter of messages from friends and colleagues lifts my spirts at the start of a tough week.
From the Department of Education I dial into a new All Party Group that is looking at tackling bullying of children and young people and catch up with officials working on the reforms of the system for supporting those with special educational needs and disabilities and school food standards. In the House of Commons I join a thoughtful discussion between MPs, are Government ministers making too many decisions without enough scrutiny by parliament? Some argue that Parliament should be voting on each of the new coronavirus measures, others including many former ministers remind new colleagues that ministers need to be able to act quickly at this challenging time.
In the Chamber the debate on amendments to the Single Market Bill continues late into the night. It is nearly midnight by the time we finish voting.
Tuesday 22nd September MPs are exhausted after so many long weeks and late nights. The latest challenge posed by Covid is that there are not enough tests to meet the very rapid increase in demand. On the plus, it is now agreed that teachers will be prioritised for tests, but I am concerned about how this might impact children’s homes.
I listen to the Prime Minister’s statement to Parliament. For someone who is usually so optimistic this time it’s a sombre message. We are warned to expect restrictions for at least another six months, people are asked to return to working from home where possible, pubs are to shut early, plans to allow spectators back into sports ground are shelved and we are warned that further measures may be needed.
I host of a round table with parents of disabled children who run a network of parent carer forums across the country. Families of those with special needs and disabilities have had a particularly difficult time during the pandemic. Despite all that is thrown at them this awesome group are full of helpful suggestions and thoughts on how to improve the system.
In the evening, as I wait for votes, I dial into the Essex Cricket Annual General Meeting, remembering what a splendid season we had winning the championship last year. I have a late night answering messages from constituents and the coordinators of the Essex Welfare Service which is stepping up support again.
Wednesday 23rd September More meetings at the Department with the Head of the Family Courts. It is so important that our courts can continue during the pandemic, and we discuss ways to help reduce the back log of cases. I meet the Head of Ofsted who is extremely positive, inspectors have been visiting schools across the country since the beginning of term and it is good to get her feedback. We discuss the impact that coronavirus has had on childcare. Fewer children in nurseries and pre-schools has put pressure on providers and I’m concerned this could make it harder for parents to get back to work, but I’m reassured to hear that the number of registered childminders is stable. More late votes.
Thursday 24th September Even though it is a one-line whip I’ve stayed in London. I join officials working on school food, making sure that those children who are entitled to free school meals still get meals even in local lockdowns is so important. I pop into the House of Commons Chamber for the statement from the Chancellor. There is a strict limit on the numbers of MPs allowed in the Chamber at the moment with most of the seats being reserved for backbenchers so it’s the first time I’ve been able to sit on the green benches for a while. Rishi announces a new range of support for jobs and businesses, including delaying taxes and loan repayments and that the Government will help to pay the wages of people whose employers ask them to work part time. This is going to be a tough winter for so many, and it is important to provide this financial help – but it is going to hit the Government finances hard.
Friday 25th September I join MPs for an update call from the Deputy Chief Medical Officer and another update call from the Director of Public Health for Essex. It is clear that we are at a very serious time and that even though cases in Essex are not as high as in some parts of the country we are not immune and only a fortnight behind other parts of the country. We are asked to remind people about the importance of following social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands. We discuss plans to get more testing locally.
Over the past few months, I have usually been working most weekends as well as long weeks, but I decide to take this weekend off to visit my mother, who is increasingly frail. Driving west I listen to the commentary of the cricket from Lords. Essex are playing Somerset in the final and, as the last days of summer draw to the end, Sir Alistair Cook hits another hoard of runs.