This extended Parliamentary term has been one of the most turbulent Parliamentary sessions ever witnessed. It started in the midst of the Brexit storm, with Government, woefully underprepared, ripping us out of the EU; I resisted.
Simultaneously, Coronavirus, as we then called it, was detected in the UK, in York. That weekend, the media swirled around the city and I spoke with every agency while learning of the safety precautions needed. The following days were filled with meetings with Ministers and officials, and questions in the House; images of Hazmat suites filled our screens.
With February’s floods, the first of four within the year, York turned to another crisis. As we battled the elements, the prevalence of Covid19 started to rise. I had my first taste of isolation following a meeting with the Mental Health Minister and it wasn’t long before the nation followed.
The Prime Minister, after missing 5 COBRA meetings and encouraging people to shake hands (against advice) and attend mass super-spreader sporting events, was brought to heel with a surge of data as the first UK victims of Covid19 were mourned.
Legislation, rushed through Parliament, stripped us of our liberties and rights. Labour heavily tried to amend the Bill, but Government, with its seismic majority, pushed through the most draconian measures. Parliament became dysfunctional.
Meanwhile we glued ourselves to the daily press conferences, and barely left our homes. As a nation we learnt to Zoom, find the unmute button and connected online. However, for many, they disconnected as lifelines were cut with care homes locking their doors to lock out the virus.
Meanwhile our NHS staff were thrown into danger, as the Government had run down the PPE stocks through their austerity programme, leaving nurses to wear bin bags and makeshift masks. Many fell ill; many died. This week, at Workers’ Memorial Day, I will pay tribute to them on the steps of the Minster.
As Shadow Employment Rights Secretary of State, I was busy holding unscrupulous employers to book as they forced their workers, predominantly in warehouses, factories, building sites and call centres to work in conditions which expedited the spread of Covid19.
As your MP, my case work more than quadrupled overnight. I and my staff worked every waking hour. Three surgeries a week, broke up the calls and zooms with Ministers, colleagues, businesses and anyone else in need. When I could draw breath, I wrote reports, advocated change and fought for each one of you.
Across the city we saw the incredible generosity of volunteering, donations and support; I applaud you all.
Eventually Parliament moved online, opening up the opportunity to debate and scrutinise the Government. I have taken every opportunity. Warning of a second wave, highlighting the need for more resources to fight Covid19, supporting the 3m excluded from Government schemes, speaking up for charities, in my current shadow role, and setting out alternatives wherever possible.
With the murder of George Floyd and the weight of Covid19 deaths falling hard in minoritised communities, we not only declared that Black Lives Matter, but now work to eliminate the persistent, institutional racism that has captured our society.
By the end of the second lockdown the Government’s liberal approach was destined to beckon a third. I begged Government for caution, as did the scientists; instead they encouraged families to exchange the virus over Christmas, and tragedy ensued.
Meanwhile the final act of Brexit treachery, as we left the transition arrangements, resulted in a wafer thin withdraw agreement, barely enabling us to trade and putting a border down the Irish Sea. MPs were denied a vote on the agreement, and instead were only given a vote on whether to have some measures in place or a ‘no deal’. Sparks in Northern Ireland and the drop in trade is testimony to its failure.
As we emerge from yet another lockdown, none of us ever want a Parliament like this again. We have a Government, and now Council Leaders, embroiled in scandal, as we have witnessed how those that do not share our values, exploit others for their own benefit.
As we start this next Parliamentary season, I want us to connect with the things and people that matter; to connect with the values that matter. These are the values of fairness, equality and justice; these are the Labour values I will seek to advance in the next Parliament.