Do we all make New Year resolutions anymore? I gave up any attempt at the usual ones long ago as they usually involve giving up some form of pleasurable, if usually unhealthy activity or promising to take-up a new healthy one. But I do have two resolutions this year.
I’ll come onto my second at the end of the article, but the first has to be keeping cheerful. All too easy and understandable to be down in the dumps during what I’ve always perceived as the most miserable month of the year. I always recall from my father, who had a small chain of greengrocers back in the day, that January was always the worst trading month, and then during my time working as an accountant in practice, the annual rush of tax returns to be filed by the 31st always meant 7 day a week working and long hours to beat the deadline. So January to me was always negative even before Covid came along.
The festive season brought full-time working for most MPs and additional pressure on Kent ones as we pored simultaneously over the new Free Trade Agreement with the EU and grappled with the blockade of our region because of French demands stopping the short straits traffic flow. A big thanks must go to Kent Police, the Army, the NHS, Kent County and Thanet District Councils, the Department for Transport and the huge number of volunteers who came together to assist.
All that seems to have been achieved is proof that lorry drivers are an extremely low source of infection (Lateral Flow Testing showed up about 0.25% or 1 in 400 to be positive, an unknown number of whom probably arrived in the UK with the virus in any event) and a serious headache to the logistics network of the whole of Europe, missed family time by drivers and local frontline workers, wasted short-dated produce, notably shellfish from Scotland, and a seriously jammed up Kent.
We were then recalled for a single Parliamentary day to consider all stages of the new EU (Future Relationships) Bill. There was a last rear-guard action by the usual suspects who have attempted throughout to overturn the 2016 Referendum result but the Bill sailed through both Houses of Parliament. I stayed to watch the final deliberations of the Lords, returning to the House of Commons to await the message that Royal Assent had been given at 12.30 in the morning of the 31st December, signifying that the Bill had become an Act of Parliament. It was, for me, a historic day that I was never going to miss. We start the New Year as a normal independent country.
The world has not fallen in as many seem to wish upon their own country in the hope of a short-term ‘told you so’ message; the Port of Dover and EuroTunnel are operating to a high degree of normality despite the ongoing Covid testing demands and we have already exercised some of our new freedoms by banning environmentally destructive Pulse Trawling within our waters and removed VAT from female sanitary products, the so-called ‘Tampon Tax’ that was not possible to remove under EU VAT law.
Let’s move on to Covid. The spread of the new variant, particularly in the South East and London, has been rapid leading many to call for enhanced lockdowns, including schools once more.
Kent has been either locked down or under serious restrictions for two months now with seemingly little effect on the advance of the virus. Across my constituency covering parts of Thanet and Dover District, schools have been told to remain open because of the local downward trajectory of infection rates; this mirrors the position experienced by much of the North of the country who had very high rates but kept education going as best they could.
Some schools have taken unilateral action to close – this is a tough one to rule upon. *If schools are closed even to the children of ‘key workers’ which includes NHS staff and care workers, then those essential people, desperately needed to care for the ill, could be taken away from their duties to manage childcare demands.
Obviously vaccination is the route out of this. The approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – easier to store and distribute will play a key part. The country must put all effort into rolling this and the Pfizer vaccine out to the community as if on a war footing: we must strip away all and any red-tape to this effort with the speed of manufacture left as the only limiting factor.
With the cost of Covid restrictions mounting up at a £Billion per day, any cost less than this must represent a good return on investment on top of the primary purpose of saving lives and protecting the vulnerable. We then enter the ‘moral maze’ conundrum. It is obvious common-sense to vaccinate frontline care workers to minimise hospital and care home acquired infections, but after that how should the hierarchy of roll-out progress?
I don’t have the definitive answer but vaccinating those most in contact with the elderly must surely be positive, and to calm down the schools debate, teachers and school staff should also be considered together with those working in retail who interact widely with the public. I will be on the back of Ministers responsible to ensure the vaccination rollout is logical, efficient and rapid.
Finally, my last New Year resolution. It is to ‘block’ those who are increasingly taking to Social Media to peddle their own form of hate. I always enjoy robust debate but when the posts become personal, abusive, lacking in any proper content beyond expletives or are repetitively nasty there is little to be gained by either reading, or engaging. I have a feeling my new approach will enhance my first New Year Resolution of being cheerful. I’d recommend a similar approach.
Happy New Year. It will get better.
*(Editor’s note) Schools in Thanet which have taken the decision to delay face to face learning are open for vulnerable and key worker children.