The weather is turning this week, with rain forecast. Farmers will be pleased. But the glorious spring weather has been the great consolation of this strange and worrying time.
At least bad weather will keep people from thronging the parks and beaches. I fully understand how irksome the restrictions must be for families living in small homes with no outside space; for children and young people with energy to burn; for anyone who just needs some different company but their housemates, or themselves.
But even more, I sympathise with older people who have been required to self-isolate, without even a trip to the shops to liven up the day, and prevented from seeing their children and grandchildren. As we begin to look beyond the catastrophic scenario – thankfully averted so far – of the disease overwhelming the NHS, we urgently need to think about how to make life better for this group. I talked this week to the boss of Age UK Wiltshire and we agreed to work together and with others to develop proposals to improve support for isolated elderly people in our area.
I thought the Prime Minister’s speech in Downing Street on Monday was helpful – not just because it’s wonderful to have him back, but because he clearly explained where we are in the story of this crisis. ‘We are coming to the end of the first phase’, he said, meaning the battle to contain the spread of infection. This is a great achievement in which the whole country can take pride. Things didn’t look so positive a month or two ago. Attention can now turn to the second phase, which is the task of reopening the economy in a way that doesn’t cause a second peak in infections.
My main job during the lockdown remains constituent casework (in which I am assisted by a brilliant team, all working remotely of course but we meet each morning by Zoom and stay in touch all day). We spent much of the last week trying to help local businesses access the Government’s loan scheme. I have been in regular touch with Treasury ministers on this and I’m glad to say the situation has improved somewhat. One important example: the owners of the iconic Polly’s Tea Rooms, in Marlborough, spent weeks trying to get help from their bank; this week, finally, they got it.
I am also busy discussing with other MPs and different experts what future policies we need to make a better Britain. My particular interest is in communities and civil society. We are seeing an outpouring of neighbourliness right now; how can this be maintained and used to transform our society on the other side of the lockdown? I hope we might emerge with a better economic and social settlement than we had before the virus struck.