The Boundary Commissioner’s in town
I loath abstaining. It always seems like sitting on the fence, or not being able to make your mind up. However, on Wednesday, along with a number of my colleagues, I did just that on measures for delaying the final lifting of lockdown. I touched on my reasons in interventions on the health secretary and his shadow during the preceding debate.
I’m an uber-loyalist, disappointing the whips in the ayes/noes lobbies only once in 20 years as an MP. I would argue that most people vote for a party rather than an individual. They expect the successful candidate to vote accordingly unless there’s very good reason. My rebellion was in 2003 over the Iraq war when the then Opposition foolishly decided to support Prime Minister Blair. My constituents were telling me it was wrong. I agreed. Being a Reservist, I was then packed off to Iraq.
So, you see, Wednesday’s little abstention was quite a big deal for me.
We’ve become inured to the restriction on our liberties during the pandemic. But I’m just not satisfied with this ‘new normal’ We have to reclaim what we previously took for granted just as we did, eventually, after the prescriptions and proscriptions of two world wars. The longer we delay the more difficult it will be and the more likely this ghastly business will just go on and on.
To be fair, like ministers and those advising them, I too can’t say for sure whether we are in the foothills of another spike in ITU admissions and deaths. I suspect not, but can understand the government’s caution. However, the number of cases of the apparently more infectious and severe delta variant have been rising for weeks now and I really would have expected any increase we were going to get in the number of seriously ill people to have started to become evident.
The reason for my abstention was that in the next few days we should have any link between cases recorded and life threatening illness confirmed or refuted by emerging data in time for the planned review of the lockdown extension in a fortnight’s time. If at that point we are not seeing large numbers of ITU admissions and deaths, I expect ministers to bring forward the 19 July new date for the removal of remaining measures such as mandatory social distancing.
Which brings me to venues and events that are being killed off by social distancing. Commendably the government has been gathering evidence on transmission of the virus at big events. It looks like they can be conducted safely. So I was expecting a more nuanced approach as part of any extension to the last of the lockdown measures, perhaps involving a permissive approach to those who have been jabbed or who have a negative lateral flow test. Again, more data will be available to ministers at the review point. They must ease restrictions, as is happening across Europe, as soon as the evidence allows.
For MPs the Boundary Commission is about as welcome as the Inquisition. Selfless industry and commitment, love for constituents, astral brilliance in parliament – pah! None of that matters to hatchet-faced Commissioners talking red pens to your little corner of England. What does matter is regularising the number of voters in each constituency, ensuring votes count as equally as possible, as laid out in statute.
The Commission’s latest visitation has produced initial proposals that have surprised many, flipping its previous idea of a cross border Wiltshire-Dorset seat to a Wiltshire-Gloucestershire version, leaving Dorset alone. You can see what’s proposed and how to comment at www.bcereviews.org.uk. On past experience, proposals change quite a lot as the process rumbles on.