Coronavirus has been a global catastrophe and has challenged governments everywhere. Yet no other major country proportionately has seen such a high death rate or financial deficit.
Today we will be asked to vote on the government’s latest move to place 98%+ of the country into either Tier 2 or Tier 3 restrictions.
The scale of the health emergency is still severe. The lockdown has driven down transmission rates but numbers are still worryingly high and the critical care capacity in hospitals is stretched alarmingly. Overall hospital numbers are not the key test but critical care capacity is.
Therefore, there must still be some restrictions, the question is are the ones that government propose the right ones and is the support package for those who are financially impacted adequate? The answer to both of these questions is No.
The government has set out different tiers dependent on a set of criteria- the primary one of which is the transmission rate in a local area.
Tier 2 is largely focussed around the hospitality trade and domestic meetings, yet they have been unable to provide evidence that hospitality is the cause of many of the major outbreaks. Indeed their own figures show that schools, universities, workplaces, care homes and hospitals have all seen far more transmission that the hospitality sector which has typically put in place stringent measures to protect their customers and staff.
I said when Chesterfield was put into Tier 2 that I opposed it not because I didn’t think anything should be done, but that because I thought it would be brutal but wouldn’t work. I was right, transmission rates in Chesterfield went up whilst we were in Tier 2, it may have taken the sharpness off the curve a little, but unlike a mass testing strategy particularly focussed on the areas of highest transmission as other countries have done, it was largely ineffective.
Having failed to get on top of testing, the government locked down too late, meaning that the lockdown had to be for longer and the tail extended, which is what we are now experiencing.
Tier 3 remains brutal and inexplicably is being very unevenly applied. The original lockdowns were done on an area by area basis. But this time all of the East Midlands (excepting Rutland) has been placed in the Tier 3.
In Chesterfield our latest rate is 118/100,000. That is still high. It is higher than Leicester was when it first went into an additional lockdown, but it is way lower than other areas that have placed in Tier 2. Scarborough was at 400/100K when it was placed into Tier 2 and the London Borough of Redbridge was over 300/ 100k when it went in too.
It has been reported that Boris Johnson intervened to prevent London being placed into Tier 3 because he was worried about the economic damage caused by London being in Tier 3, but it seems he had less concern for the publicans, café owners and restaurateurs of Chesterfield when he made these decisions.
This government expects no scrutiny from anyone, just blind obedience despite their incompetent management of the crisis, so they have left MPs with two choices today. “Vote for our restrictions or know that if this vote is defeated all restrictions will end tomorrow.” It’s an appalling choice.
I certainly wouldn’t want the health consequences of no restrictions but as I’ve suggested above I’m not willing to give my support for these restrictions either. That’s why I, and the majority of my Labour Party colleagues will be attempting to use this debate to make the arguments about what a more sensible and fairer approach would look like, the kind of economic package that should be in place to support businesses who are forced to close, and workers forced to shield.
We will also refuse to endorse the government’s approach by abstaining in the main vote. We are not willing to vote against and risk the irresponsible carnage of an end to all restrictions as some Tory libertarians would do, but the alternative direction Labour advocate is clear.
The vaccine offers hope of a return to normality, the sacrifices people have already made have been huge. The need for further restrictions remains but the hospitality sector, other affected businesses and workers must be supported so that it is there for us to use when this nightmare is over. That’s what I’ll be saying and how I’ll be voting tonight.