Since the Prime Minister's press conference on Saturday announcing a second national lockdown until 2 December, I have been wrestling with which way I should vote when it came to the vote in Parliament today. In total 516 MPs voted in favour cross-party, a small number voted against, and I and a few others took the decision to abstain. In short, I took the decision I took because I don’t believe a national lockdown is right for Ipswich. But I do understand why the Government thinks it might be necessary for other areas and the country as a whole.
I have attended a number of meetings with Government data scientists to analyse the latest data and particularly the local data. I have received almost 100 emails from constituents expressing their views and I have also conducted a poll which over 1,000 constituents took part in (58% support a national lockdown until 2 December and 42% opposed).
I am concerned by the data I have seen and the rising case rates across the country which the Government believes could lead to our NHS being overwhelmed over the next couple of months. Though at the moment, Ipswich is in Tier 1 and has much lower levels of COVID-19 compared with other areas of the country and relatively low pressure on our local hospital. This is very likely to change over the coming weeks. We are not immune from what is happening in other parts of the country.
I am well aware of the threat that COVID-19 poses and the need for action to be taken to prevent its spread but as I've said repeatedly over the past few months, its critically important to balance the need to protect lives, livelihoods and liberties. The reality is that despite the support packages provided by the Government, livelihoods have already been destroyed by the restrictions associated with lockdowns and sadly there will be much more hardship that will come as a result of this second lockdown.
It's clear that the Prime Minister is doing what he believes is best to protect our country in very difficult circumstances. And I know that he is acutely aware of the harm that lockdowns cause which is why Government has promoted a regional approach to tackling the spread of the virus. I know the Prime Minister has made this decision with nothing other best interests of this country in mind and it’s one that has pained him to take.
I know some of my constituents will agree with the Prime Minister on this difficult decision. But given the consequences of lockdown, I fundamentally couldn’t justify voting for a second national lockdown either. There is currently no certainty around a COVID vaccine and I fear that once we enter into this second national lockdown it could lead to a spiral of further lockdowns. This is one of the main concerns I had about Labour’s call for a circuit-breaker lockdown.
Ultimately, post 2 December, I think there needs to be a new comprehensive strategy with the need balance the need to protect: lives, livelihoods and liberties at its heart. There was some evidence that the regional approach was beginning to bear fruit and I believe that further steps could have been taken to improve the regional approach without resorting to the blunt instrument of a national lockdown that treats all areas the same regardless of their levels of COVID-19 or the ability of their local NHS to cope with the pressure. It's vital that we return to a regional approach post 2 December.”
Whilst concerned about the data I have seen its also become clear as the week has progressed that the data is contested and there are different data sets. Some of the headline projections have also been discredited that has knocked my confidence with regard to whether this is the right approach or not.
Ordinarily abstaining is not a position I would ever take on such a key issue, and I’m not usually backward in coming forward. But I honestly felt conflicted between an approach I believe to be wrong for my constituency, and my sympathy for the position of the Prime Minister and the kinds of decisions he has to take at the national level to combat the virus. In this specific case abstaining was the truest way I felt I could reflect the position I’ve given a great deal of consideration coming to.
Whether people agree with me or not hopefully they will appreciate that I’ve been motivated solely by what I believe is in Ipswich’s best interests. The reality is that the lockdown will become law at midnight tonight, and now our undivided attention must be coming together, respecting the lockdown and making the most of it to supress the virus nationally and protect capacity in our NHS nationally through what will be a difficult winter period. Hopefully with this focus we can ensure that more relaxed restrictions are in place for the Christmas period, and that it will buy us time for a game changing moment whether it’s a vaccine or mass testing.
I am glad that the Government has extended the furlough scheme and generous support for the self-employed as well as a new grants to support business but my fear is that this won't be enough to save many jobs and businesses within my constituency. I also fear for the mental health of many of my constituents who struggled immensely with the first lockdown. My message to all constituents is please do get in contact if there is anything you think I might be able to help you during this difficult time. You can get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Accepting that the lockdown vote was likely to be successful this week I have tried to secure movement on a few key issues. I am glad that pubs will now be able to operate a click and collect service but I'm sorry there wasn't movement on allowing religious services to take place and other issues.