I think it was right for Matt Hancock to resign, and I detect from my inbox that many people locally think so too. The Government has been regulating private life with an unheard-of degree of intrusion for 18 months, including a ban on embracing people not in your household. This on its own was enough to make the defence that his affair was ‘a personal matter’ untenable. I also think the public/private distinction is weak anyway, as if national leadership (or any responsibility, for that matter) were purely a question of technical skill irrespective of private character.
I had a happy morning in Marlborough on Monday, as I explained in a Commons question on Thursday to Jacob Rees-Mogg which you can watch here. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Belinda Richardson, the town’s Tourism Officer, Marlborough is now officially a ‘coach-friendly town’. This is not just because it has an enormously wide high street. It’s because it’s ideally set up for tourism. The news may not please every resident, or resident of the villages roundabout, but the money that tourists and shoppers bring is essential to our future prosperity and I am delighted for Belinda and the Town Council.
I also popped into the Polly Tea Rooms, now 110 years old, and the brand-new Eliane’s Restaurant, which opened in Hughenden Yard in the middle of the pandemic. These places - and the dress shops, and the book shop, and the new cinema, and all the pubs, and the travel agents - all need the punters back asap. Roll on July 19th.
On Tuesday Laura Farris, MP for neighbouring Newbury, and I held an online meeting with a large number of constituents worried about the terrible state of the River Kennet, which flows through our constituencies to become the main tributary of the Thames at Reading. The river is too low because of over-extraction, and it is polluted with raw sewage by Thames Water whose pipes and treatment works cannot cope with the volume of effluent we produce. Both problems - extraction and sewage - are the consequence of over-use of water, itself a product of over-development (too many houses) and profligacy (too much washing and watering and generally wasting water, which is very cheap). At our meeting Laura and I heard from residents and experts - including the national campaigner Feargal Sharkey - and we pledged to take their complaints and questions to the Environment Agency and Thames Water, whom we are meeting this week.
I asked the Social Care Minister a question in the Commons on Thursday, which you can watch here. In a nutshell, I am concerned about the next great stage of health reform, which is the integration of health and care services at a local level. The mission is the right one but I worry that it may lead to more bureaucracy and centralisation, and a more ‘efficient’ but less human service, which is ultimately a less efficient one too. Sajid Javid, the new Health and Care Secretary, has his work cut out.
Thursday evening was the annual general meeting of the Devizes Constituency Conservative Association. We have not had a proper in-person meeting since the night in November 2019 when I was selected as the candidate for the general election. I deeply regret the absence of personal connection with my fellow party members, but we had to make do with zoom for what I hope will be the last time ever. Apart from the routine business (and the election of a new Chairman to replace the much-respected Stuart Wheeler - congratulations to Rupert Stephenson) the main issue for the local party is the possible redrawing of the constituency boundaries, to cut off Devizes town from the rest of the constituency I currently represent. I pledged to resist this unhappy idea as much as I can.
Friday morning I was up early to join the Revs Keith Brindle and Marion Harrison at St James’s Church in Devizes to watch the National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast, taking place inevitably by zoom from an echoing Westminster Hall. Local churches have a crucial role in the social recovery from the pandemic which matters as much as the economic recovery.
The battle of Bromham continues. A Traveller family is brazenly ignoring a series of planning rejections and enforcement notices, and continues to build an illegal encampment of caravans on their land on the edge of the village. I have been in close touch with the council who I am confident are now, and not before time, taking the necessary resolute steps to ensure the law is upheld. I wrote a short post about the situation here.
William the Conqueror gave Bromham to Battle Abbey in East Sussex, the monastic house he established to mark his victory at Hastings. For five hundred years, until the dissolution, it was ‘a liberty’, meaning the Abbey had near-total autonomy, dispensing its own civil and criminal justice rather than relying on the officers of the shire, as other landowners had to. I expect the people of Bromham today would like to have their own powers of law enforcement, independent of the county council. But we are a law-bound people, and must follow the rules even if others don’t.