The arrival of the Pfizer Vaccine into Brighton and Hove as our regional hub at the end of last week and the Parliamentary vote to set local Health Protection regulations that include Sussex until at least the 2nd February 2021 which took place at the beginning of that week will have pleased some people and upset many others. The reality is that decisions that are made to direct our behaviour which take place without any attempt to seek our views can inevitably cause additional conflict or disappointment. Sometimes hindsight reveals that they were good decisions and sadly in many other cases they are recognised as very bad decisions. However, our views and our engagement are matters that should be considered by our local MPs as a matter of priority long before hindsight arrives. Based on what I have read regarding the numbers of people that can be vaccinated each day, it suggests a minimum of an 18-month arrangement for all Sussex residents to be covered. No doubt things will change in the future but whatever occurs we have many months to get through. Equally the Tier arrangements will last well into next year and the sunset clause on 2nd February in 8 weeks time is not the end of that set of arrangement. Both of these issues explain why the need for a credible and effective track and trace scheme is still vital as expressed by Keir Starmer in the debate last Tuesday which Boris Johnson suggested would need to be revisited every two weeks over the next 8 weeks.
Three Sussex MPs took part in the debate and their comments and the votes demonstrated very mixed views from our Sussex MPs. One could imagine that our Sussex Councils and indeed the NHS and other public sectors would also have some views on the same theme. Perhaps our communities could now begin to discover some of these views. It is certainly necessary for Sussex MPs to begin to talk together in a way that overlooks the party rosettes’ because we need some consistency in our area when it comes to matters that are impacting large numbers of people and the businesses in settings where a single constitution cannot exist in isolation. A few days before last weeks debate, Nusrat Ghani, the MP for Wealden spoke about the best way of dealing with East Sussex as we came out of the national lockdown. She referred to three of her neighbouring colleagues on the East and South side of Wealden who she claimed all opposed the anticipated tier 2 arrangement. Given that these four people are also members of the same Party, one might assume that they would have retained their views and voted together. On Tuesday Sally Ann-Hart from Hastings stated “although I rile against the seemingly authoritarian nature of these restrictions, I agree with the Government that these covid measures are needed to reduce infection, subsequent hospitalisation and possible deaths, and to protect our long-term economy.” Huw Merriman from Bexhill and Battle explained why he still opposed the tier 2 approach. Caroline Ansell did not speak but she voted alongside Sally-Ann Hart. Nusrat Ghani did not vote at all which was equally surprising.
There are five Sussex MPs who work for the Government and all voted to support Tier 2. They are Maria Caulfield, Mims Davies, Nick Gibb, Gillian Keegan and Jeremy Quin. Given that we need local MPs to engage with residents and local people these five people may never be willing to do so. They along with the two members of East Sussex were joined by Andrew Griffith and Peter Bottomley. It was interesting that Peter wrote to his constituents at the same time “Recognise the hard work each of us has taken to protect our loved ones and the community around us. We have one of the lowest rates of transmission in the country. We could soon enter Tier 1, ‘Medium Alert’.” Just as there was differences in East Sussex, the residents in Worthing received opposite votes from Peter and their other MP. Tim Loughton spoke during the debate and made his opposition much stronger and he voted against the arrangement along with Henry Smith from Crawley. The three MPs who are not members of the Conservative Party all chose not to vote for or against this arrangement. Inevitably they would all have to work a lot harder to find common ground with their neighbouring MPs due to the political issues. However we need them to find some political coherence if our region is going to work together to resist COVID and the scam offers for vaccination before we are due for it. After all Johnson promised using granular detail in time for the next tier review which is now due in just over a weeks time!