Normally when government passes a law the message is, “obey it.”
But not for this government. They’ve gone to the trouble to create detailed laws about how we’re to behave this Christmas yet the message is, “don’t follow the law.”
But who to follow? Because the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and public health officials are all saying different things.
As ever with this government we mustn’t forget that we don’t land in these situations by accident. We’re led to these infuriating situations because of poor decision-making by the people running our country right now.
All the way through this crisis I’ve tried to be constructive in my relationships with government and public health officials. I’ve never doubted how tough their job is.
But the fact remains that Downing Street has been catastrophically poor at strategic planning. At the very beginning as covid swept across Asia and Europe, up to a third of people who died were in care homes, yet our government didn’t put “a protective ring” around them until almost 20,000 people had died there.
Over the summer we should have been having a national debate about how we’d respond as a country to the inevitable second wave. I asked questions about this that remain unanswered.
My boss Keir Starmer made offers to government that we’d support a “circuit-break” to get a grip of covid and avoid another full lockdown.
But all this was ignored and government simply focused on generating some good headlines for the next day rather than thinking of our health next month.
So we were told to “show some guts” and go to the beach. We were all given discount food and told by government to act in a way that laid foundations for the mess we’re in now.
Take just one issue: gyms. Over the summer government should have been asking: “What are the lessons from our first lockdown? How can we do things better if we need a second?”
Back in March, April and June it was getting lighter, warmer, and nicer to exercise outdoors. Like most people I was out in a local park and doing my best to stay fit and healthy.
It was entirely predictable that things would be different for an autumn or winter lockdown. It will be getting darker, colder, wetter. People can’t work from home and exercise in the evening.
With simple planning gyms could have been made safe for the last lockdown. Central government are making blanket laws without any reference to the fact that each location and establishment is different.
Local authorities and public health officials should have been empowered to make individual decisions about each gym, to judge if they can operate in a covid-safe way.
The gym I use has electronic entry systems that limit the number of people in the gym at any time. Increased distances between equipment, compulsory masks and changing rooms being closed are all things they could have been considered.
The Prime Minister has discovered the hard way how important personal health and wellbeing is to covid-survival. He has got himself a personal trainer but not given a moment’s thought to the rest of us and how we stay healthy in lockdowns.
I’ve posted a speech I made on this a couple of weeks ago. I want you to know that I’ve done my best to get the government to think of these specific things that make a real difference to our lives and with just a bit of planning and strategic thinking could have made life a lot better – even life-saving – for so many people. I know you’ll have examples like this from your own life and work too.
Christmas is upon us. We’re all going to have to make a judgment that’s right for us and our families. Law is so important during a public health crisis because by definition we all have to act in the same way to protect the health of everyone else.
But thanks to Boris Johnson, we’re in the weird situation where we’re all being told to do what we think is right in order to keep everyone else safe.
How can we be certain that other people are interpreting the rules in a way that protects me, my dad and neighbours?
I have huge regard for most people but in a health crisis I trust health experts most and want them to guide our behaviour.
Like you, I’ve been having a lot of conversations with my family about what we’ll do for Christmas. The need to be together is huge and I know you’ve be worried about this too. I truly wish you well in the coming days as you do what’s best for you and our whole community.
I write this from my office in Parliament. The bells have just been bellowing out around the building to announce that the House has now risen for the day and also for recess.
Something tells me that we’ll be back next week though to deal with that other great Boris Johnson disaster, Brexit.
But for now it means I can pack up my bag and something that always makes me happy: head home back to Hove!
I hope you’re doing well in these tough times. I’m looking forward to reading your comments and thoughts.
Peter Kyle is the Labour MP for Hove.
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