LAST week the House of Commons rose for its summer recess. In normal times this would be met with scenes of hundreds of MPs jumping on bustling trains out of the capital and travelling hurriedly in every direction back home to our constituencies.
However, the Covid pandemic has meant that for over a year, parliamentary debate and the opportunity to question ministers has not been conducted from the all too often shamefully raucous green benches, but rather via video link in the solitary confinement of my kitchen.
The pandemic has caused us to become a socially distanced democracy, as restrictions have made it impossible to hold vital in-person surgeries or call public meetings for fear of spreading infections.
This has undoubtedly curtailed the old tried and tested means by which elected representatives can engage with constituents and gather their pressing concerns and views on issues. While online solutions such as zoom calls, and email have acted as a useful sticking plaster, in a representative democracy there can be no replacement for getting out and about in the local community and having discussions on the doorstep.
As increasing numbers of people gain the protection of being double vaccinated and with the removal of restrictions, I have been able to tentatively start doing just that. Last Saturday, it was marvellous to be joined by County Durham Police and Crime Commissioner, Joy Allen, in Durham Market Place to hear constituents’ concerns about a range of issues including law and order, the health of the high street and funding social care.
There will never be a replacement for meeting constituents face to face. These street sessions allow an MP to hear a range of local views and, most importantly, talk to people who would just never think of coming to a surgery. They are truly invaluable and I cannot wait over the coming weeks to be able to get out into as many villages and neighbourhoods in Durham as possible.
For now, it is of course right that we all remain wary that Covid case rates remain high in the North East. Accordingly, I felt it would be inappropriate to hold a large in-person public meeting this week, so once more a well-attended virtual gathering on Zoom was held so that constituents in Leamside and West Rainton could safely share views about proposed developments in the area. Conscious of limitations and barriers which such meetings have, I followed this up the next day by going door knocking in the area to garner the input of those unable to attend.
Sadly, it is never possible to knock on every door, but over the coming weeks I intend to get to every corner of the constituency for similar sessions as it is undeniable that politics works best when MPs are able to have regular conversations on the doorstep.
Hopefully as more normality returns, I am looking forward to soon being able to take my surgeries offline and back into the village halls, community centres, and other spaces that are the heartbeat of our community. So, if there is a burning local issue in your area, please do not hesitate to contact me.