26 November 2020
Westminster Diary - Strange times ahead

These are strange times in Westminster. One of the senior MPs told me last week that he cannot recall a more bizarre period in politics but like me, he remains confident that we will soon see the back of 2020 by seeing off the Covid-19 pandemic.

All the indicators are good that stage three trials will be successful for several products and the UK leads the international league table on the number of vaccines that have been pre-ordered.

This appears to be reflected in the financial markets too, which remain stoically optimistic that the British economy will bounce back quickly.

Of course, this will be little consolation for the so-called excluded who have not benefited from any meaningful support schemes this year and my heart goes out to them.

I have lobbied extensively for something better and if I’d been given a policy magic wand this year, this would have been it, like for so many of my peers.

People have asked me to explain why I voted with the Government on lockdown two. Aside from being a loyal Conservative, I was presented with the facts on the increasing R rate, mortality rate and hospital admissions and it was clear that the projections for what would happen by doing nothing were simply unacceptable.

Indeed, the statistics have continued to rise alarmingly since the latest restrictions were imposed and it may just be that the Government was again proven to be pragmatic.

Yes, I fully accept that opinions are deeply polarised and that not everyone will agree with me, but I do not believe there was any real alternative to taking on trust the advice of the best medical and scientific brains in the country.

To put this in perspective, I have received as many letters arguing for tighter restrictions to break the current cycle as I have for easing them.

I have also been clear in the House that we must open outdoor sporting facilities, gymnasiums and leisure pursuits if they can be proven to be operating safely but the Government appears to be taking no risk.

It was a privilege to speak again at the second Reading Committee Stage of the Overseas Operations Bill and to see this become law.

It is right that the imposition of a statutory presumption against prosecution after five years will provide greater certainty and support for our service personnel and veterans.

As co-chair of both the Veterans APPG and chair (elect) of the Armed Forces Covenant APPG, I was happy to take a supportive stance on this, as I will be when the new Armed Forces (Covenant) Bill comes to the House early in 2021.

Having also proudly attended the (virtual) opening ceremony for the new Veterans Hub at Crowthorne Fire Station, it remains clear to me that no member of the service community should face relative disadvantage and that their families must not face undue hardship.

A massive thanks by the way to the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, the South East Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, HQ 11 Brigade, our Armed Forces Champions and to everyone at Bracknell Forest Council for their support in making it happen in Crowthorne.

Clearly, there is much to do right across society to make life fairer for everyone and recent visits to the Bracknell Foodbank at the Kerith Community Church have brought this home.

Without wishing to politicise the superb work that is being done by so many brilliant staff and volunteers, I am grateful that this facility exists to help ease local food poverty and alleviate hardship.

And we all have a wider responsibility here to do what we can for those who are disadvantaged, and I will continue to hammer this point in Westminster.

Success, prosperity, excellence and aspiration are to be lauded but there needs to be a levelling up too so that the jam is spread more widely and that opportunities are available to all.