Dr Luke Evans is a member of the Health Select Committee, and is MP for Bosworth.
Last Sunday, I took my new puppy out for a walk, it was a beautiful day and, always keen to promote the rolling countryside of my constituency, I put a couple of photographs of our expedition on social media.
A few minutes after the images were posted a Facebook message appeared, trying to be helpful, the author had obviously figured out where they were taken and commented “not sure you should be driving to take a walk: guidelines are walk from your home.”
As it happens, I had indeed walked from home but, as I pointed out, that isn’t what the ‘guidelines’ are saying right now.
In a document entitled ‘What constitutes a reasonable excuse to leave the place where you live’ the National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Policing have produced guidelines which state that “driving to countryside and walking (where far more time is spent walking than driving)’is likely to be reasonable”.
Now I know the author of the post, and so know it was meant in a constructive manner, but it serves to highlight a level of unease and uncertainty about the rules and the apprehension we are living in.
And right now there is a tangible unease and uncertainty; not just about in what circumstances that you can go for a walk but in many other areas, too.
Speaking to the leader of my Local Resilience Forum on Friday, I asked “how are we coping? His response was both reassuring yet strange. I was told “we are back to normal within the constraints of a crisis”; there is adequate PPE, access to tests and no staff shortages.
While clearly reassuring, this had a profound effect on me at a wider level: what is the “new normal”?
Last week, Parliament resumed sitting and adopted an unprecedented hybrid approach and, whilst the process was new to us, all it was clear there were issues for some in gauging the tone of debate.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, and again during Matt Hancock’s statement, I was called upon to ask a question. It’s difficult to get the feel right when talking to a webcam, but I hope both – one about the zoo sector, and the other about mental health provision for front line workers – were asked in a way which scrutinises the Government as a real critical friend.
Counter those with Barry Sheerman’s ill-judged and shambolic rant during health questions, and you will see a real disparity and arguably confusion between the considered and positive contributions being made by the new Leader of the Opposition in comparison to the more shouty members of his back bench.
Speaking to colleagues, we are all grappling with the same issue: what is now normal, and therefore what is acceptable?
Should we question solely on COVID and the Government response? Or pivot and talk about the issues preceding the crisis? Or pick COVID-related issues that will have long standing impacts in “normal” times?
It would appear that this question is ever-present in the back office of the Palace of Westminster too. The Speaker has done a wonderful job in setting the rules, but tone is so much more difficult to judge.
Despite media provocation to constantly move the story on, a new pseudo-normality has dawned; and yet no-one quite knows what are the boundaries in play, what is the difference between the letter and the spirit of the law?
The First Secretary of State has done a remarkable job in his absence but, I’m sure like everyone reading this column, I can’t have been any more delighted to see the Prime Minister back at the lectern outside Downing Street on Monday.
Not only was it a powerful personal symbol of his tussle with this dreaded virus, it was an opportunity to reinvigorate and clarify the tone too.
It’s a reinvigoration which is certainly needed and, after listening to his words, one which I know is on its way.