It’s a shame the media has led on the Tudor-like intrigues in No 10 this week, rather than on the real news that affects the country: the slowing infection rate, the rising growth forecasts, and the prospects of a successful vaccine programme early next year.
However, even if we do get out of lockdown next month and get fully back to normal next year, there will be a long tail of hardship as a result of the economic stop introduced to halt the pandemic. The answer to this is partly action by national government (and though £200 billion has already been spent on propping up businesses and jobs, expanding welfare and supporting local government, more will be needed) and partly action by local communities.
I am very pleased to see that the brilliant Devizes Covid-19 Support Group is getting up and running again, under the catchier name of Love Devizes. They will provide help to people across the Devizes area who need it, relying on a bank of volunteers and on private fundraising. I had the pleasure of volunteering with the team during the summer lockdown and look forward to doing so again. Do sign up if you’d like to join the rota, or find out more from their Facebook page.
While I’m on the subject of community support, a plug for a brilliant new initiative called Wiltshire Together, which launched this month. This will help coordinate the myriad of charities working in the county and help volunteers connect with the right opportunities. As the organisers put it:
“In a nutshell, the site acts as a community connector, building a directory of member groups and individuals who register and upload a profile that lists where and how they work and who with… Another section carries details of volunteering opportunities and is also fully searchable. An individual registering on Wiltshire Together as a potential volunteer will be matched with opportunities that fit their location and interests.”
If you’re interested please see more here.
I was selected as the Conservative candidate for the general election this time last year. My first visit in the role was to the Remembrance Day parade and church service in Devizes. I little thought then that, a year on, church services would be illegal and Remembrance Day marked by a tiny crowd with every standing metres apart. As I wrote in last weekend’s newsletter, I was at Tidworth on Sunday. In the Commons on Wednesday, Armistice Day itself, I spoke in the debate on the Army and made the suggestion that Parliament organise a parade for soldiers involved in the Covid-19 response. See my brief intervention here.
As for churches, I strongly share the regret of the Bishop of Salisbury that the Government has deemed collective worship a ‘non-essential’ activity, and therefore banned all gatherings by faith communities. There is a question whether this is even constitutional, at least in the case of the Church of England whose freedom is guaranteed in the first line of Magna Carta. The vital thing is that once lockdown is lifted next month, there is no further restriction placed on services, so long as they respect the protocols that make them ‘Covid-secure’.
My other parliamentary intervention this week was a speech in the debate on support for refugees during the pandemic, which you can watch here if interested. While the primary effort must be on preventing displacement and forced migration in conflict zones, we also need a compassionate and proportionate arrangement in the UK.
Finally, this week the Stonehenge Tunnel was approved by the Transport Secretary. I understand and partly share the distress of many (including the brilliant historian and Wiltshireman Tom Holland who has led the campaign against the proposal) at the thought of this ancient land being rent by two mighty gashes at either end of the tunnel. But the economy of the South West, especially the deeper South West whose principal artery to the rest of England is currently choked, will benefit greatly. More locally we will enjoy a reduction in rat-running through the villages round about. On balance I accept the arguments of English Heritage, the National Trust and others that this is the right thing to do.