It seems as though in the last week our Government has broken through at least two barriers which have not improved their credibility or our nations leadership. Sadly, there are also a range of issues that many of us would want to experience more locally, that are not yet emerging even though our second lockdown is nearly ended.
The two Parliamentary barriers I am aware of both relate to the Prime Minister who of course is strongly supported by most Sussex MPs and Council leaders. The barriers he has broken through both relate to his actions and one is also the behaviour of a colleague in the nation’s Government. It is disturbing that these issues occurred during the second National lockdown and the Anti-Bullying Week that ended on Friday. On that day we all learned that Sir Alexander Allen, the Prime Ministers Independent Adviser on Ministerial Standards resigned because of Johnsons response to the report on the activity of Priti Patel. The report made it clear that Patel had breached the Governments Ministerial code, and that she had bullied people which was an issue that Johnson had claimed needed to be prevented. It is clearly vital for Parliament to resolve this in an appropriate way. The other barrier that Johnson broke is more positive than his rejection of the Ministerial Standards Advisory report. However, this action comes several months after opposition to this approach from Jacob Rees-Mogg. It appears to be a different set of rules for one person than the rest of the Government. When Johnson connected with the Parliamentary Chamber in the House of Commons on several occasions last week via a video system his involvement was clearly very important. However as other MPs have expressed on a number of occasions, their prevention from participating in Parliamentary debates has potentially weakened our nations Governance. As we all know in the past there have been many occasions when deputy Prime Ministers or their equivalents have taken part in debates because the Prime Minister of the day has been unable to attend for a wide range of reasons. Yet last week because Johnson was based at his formal home due to COVID, he chose to contribute through a video system that historically Rees-Mogg has refused to accept. Indeed, last Tuesday one Conservative MP raised her concern that she was able to take part in a debate on the subject of National Security and Investment while some of her colleagues were prevented because they were in the same condition as Johnson. She pointed out, her contribution in the debate was not able to also include two of her colleagues who
“cannot speak today because they are self-isolating or shielding and our virtual Parliament does not allow them to take part in these debates. The sooner we allow Members who are having to self-isolate and shield to take part in debates, the better.”
Given that these were precisely the reasons why Boris Johnson participated via a video, all of us must wonder how long it will take for Parliament to start acting in the same manner as so many businesses and other elected settings in our nation currently do.
The local issue relates to the need for our Sussex MPs and the Council Leaders to begin to work together in a public way as a matter of very high priority. When the national lockdown ends in just over a week’s time, our local arrangements for COVID will place us in tier 1,2 or 3 or indeed tier 0 or tier 5 if we chose to adopt the Scottish arrangements. This situation must make sense for all of our communities in a coherent way. We must avoid nonsensical issues of people in one constituency or one Council area being treated differently to other people in the same area. Such a position risks a pub being open on one side of a road and a restaurant being closed on the other side. Clearly if Sussex is treated differently to Kent or Surrey or Hampshire, there will still be some challenges, but inevitably County borders do make sense to most people. If Councils were having to deal with different rules internally or indeed the Police or the Fire and Rescue, there could be real challenges that would be very hard to understand and achieve. In any case the links between Kent, Surrey, Hampshire and Sussex will be much stronger if Sussex MPs and Councillors can begin to work internally and publicly in a way that ensures that all of our residents and workers understand what is taking place and can observe the communication in a meaningful way. Indeed, such an approach would make it easier for journalists and broadcasters to understand the difference between the County areas and that could then help all local residents.