Wanted: A new Remembrance Day for the “Corona Heroes”
Every year, we have an important Remembrance Day in early November, to commemorate the fallen in all our military battles since the First World War. The coronavirus is a different kind of war, but a war nevertheless. As the Prime Minister said, it is a war against an invisible enemy.
What is extraordinary about all this is not just the work ethic of our staff in the public services – or of those in private companies keeping our supermarkets open and the delivery network maintained – but their incredible courage too. Thousands of key workers are going in each day, knowing that they are exposing themselves to risk. Thousands more are volunteering to come out of retirement to help protect us from coronavirus. Already there have been deaths amongst those very volunteers.
The people who have risked their health and lives and those who have been lost to us must be remembered when this is all over. The thousands of ordinary citizens who have passed away before their time must be commemorated also.
Our United Kingdom should mark the day – perhaps on the date that the virus first reached our shores – with a special Coronavirus Remembrance Day, so that we never forget the “Corona Heroes” who did so much to care for and look after millions of people. Perhaps the symbol of this day could be a blue and white badge or poppy, not to signify pacifism, but to reflect the colours of the three initials of our National Health Service symbol.
Wanted: A Coronavirus Social Justice Minister
If there is one thing that gives me heart in all this gloom is the re-emergence of the ‘Big Society’. In Harlow and across the country, smaller charities, community groups, neighbourhood associations and friendly social media apps and groups are all connecting us in a giant golden thread of social capital, with their core purpose of helping the vulnerable. They are doing extraordinary work and without them many may have faced real hardship. The ‘Big Society’ was one of David Cameron’s best ideas but, sadly, it has fallen by the wayside in recent years.
The Prime Minister should appoint one of his existing Cabinet members as a Minister for Social Justice. He or she would not only ensure funding for charities where it is needed, but also examine the best of what is being done and ways of applying the rejuvenated Big Society in the aftermath of the virus.
This is all the more important because, whilst the Big Society may have been strengthened, social disadvantage will have increased. Those left-behind pupils and students, who will have been further left behind, those living in poor quality housing, those who are working but struggling with the cost of living, those with mental health difficulties, those home alone, those homeless and rough sleepers will all need our support.
The Social Justice Minister should carry out an impact assessment of Coronavirus looking at social disadvantage and work with the rest of the Government on mitigation measures.
The mission of the Boris Johnson Government is to transform the lives of everyone in all parts of our country. The coronavirus aftermath will likely mean significant steps backwards in terms of social justice. It must be a priority for the Government to address this once the pandemic is over.
We should give thanks to Keir Starmer
In a previous article for Conservative Home, I wrote that it would be better for the Conservatives to have a stronger Labour leader to shake us out of any complacency and ensure that we are always ready for the fight.
With the election of Keir Starmer as Labour leader, and his promising start to combat antisemitism, there is another reason to be glad. In the national emergency we are now in, at least there are fewer Corbybnistas to deal with, and a leader who is more is likely to be constructive rather than opposing for opposition’s sake. It means the country can be more united, which is vital at this time. Whether Starmer will be the new Clement Attlee, we will find out soon enough.
A Virtual Parliament and a Reforming Speaker
I believe that the current Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle is going to be a great reformer. Last week, the Speaker worked with the Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg and others, to form “Digital Committees”: Members are now allowed to conduct Committee meetings and business online, away from the Commons – a significant step forward in terms of digital democracy. On Monday evening the Speaker issued a statement announcing further moves towards creating a virtual Parliament.
This is a really good step forward. If the Palace of Westminster is a hotbed for coronavirus to flourish – alongside the mice – why not allow the House of Commons to go digital. Thereby we could choose to walk through virtual 3D lobbies to vote, attend the Chamber and Select Committees and even visit a virtual tearoom, where we can continue to gossip and chat with MP colleagues (albeit with homemade egg and chips). Perhaps the 1922 Committee could still meet every Wednesday at 1700hrs in Committee Room 14, via Zoom?
The idea of just carrying on as before with half-hearted social distancing measures is just not feasible, given the huge number of Parliamentarians and staff across the estate. Moreover, as MPs travel from constituencies to Westminster, we are walking doodlebugs, potentially spreading the virus wherever we go.