Luke Evans: While we all hope for a vaccine, we know that we will never return to pre-pandemic normal

22 Jul

Dr Luke Evans is a member of the Health Select Committee, and is MP for Bosworth.

Four months ago, around the start of the Coronavirus lockdown, the Editor of ConservativeHome contacted me to ask whether, as both a GP and a newly-elected backbench Member of Parliament, I would like to write a weekly diary about how Covid-19 would come to affect my constituency.

Of course, as any newly-elected backbench MP would, I jumped at the chance. It would hopefully be a way to give an insight into what goes on at the grassroots of backbench business.

But far more importantly, I saw it as an obvious opportunity to assess Covid-19’s impact on my constituency of Bosworth on a weekly basis.

I would have to step back and think for a couple of hours before picking up my laptop. That’s vital time which helps you to reflect and strategise about what you do next.

A space to breathe in a fast flowing, ever-changing situation.

So as Parliament breaks up for its summer recess, it’s a good time to reflect on the past four months – to ask what went well and, of course, what I could have done better as a new MP.

A chance to gather my office together. After all they have shouldered the load with me, and without their dedication, tenacity and expertise the situation as a new MP would be nearly untenable. Four weeks to simply focus on the constituency; clear the decks, reset, and prepare for the next phase.

Until September an uneasy hiatus, as we’re nowhere near the end of the Coronavirus story I fear.

I recognised right at the very start of these columns that I was fortunate to come from a medical background. I was able to understand the data, the system, the clinical constraints on staff and hopefully ask pertinent questions at the Health and Social Care Select Committee – and in the virtual Chamber of the House – while also raising ideas that were fitting to ministers and their departments, and where possible offering solutions.

That experience as a GP, I hope, meant that I was able to communicate those aspects effectively to my constituents. As we were learning about the virus at a rate of knots I was able to record videos about the differences between social distancing and shielding, and – even now the most effective weapon in our fight against the virus – good hygiene.

But it quickly became apparent that while this period in our history has been driven by a global virus, with far too many lives tragically lost, the medicine has only been one part of a much wider crisis.

Where I was comfortable in discussing the science the role of an MP is seldom that of a specialist. I had to gain knowledge in supporting businesses on the verge of collapse, constituents losing their jobs and – certainly not least – a world-renowned zoo fighting for survival.

Anyone entering politics really does need to know that at base backbench level, to serve your constituents you quickly need to become a problem-solving generalist. It should come a surprise to no one that in the past month I’ve asked as many questions about the economic impact of Covid-19 as I have about the medical one.

But as Parliament breaks for the summer our minds turn to what comes next.

Like everyone else I’m eagerly watching the promising medical breakthroughs that we have heard about in the past two days and hope that they come to fruition. While we all hope for a vaccine, we know that we will never return to pre-pandemic normal – this can be construed as a positive or negative, and we all have an active role in the preponderance to which it is.

Although we all have to be working for the best, we also have to be preparing for the worst. We must be mindful of the economic impact of the virus, how we begin to pay it back and the absolute need to protect younger people who may well bear the brunt through unemployment. All balanced with the plan to deliver on what we promised as Conservatives that lead to a large majority in the House.

I’m proud of how this Government has responded to the greatest threat to us all in living memory. Of course not all has gone to plan, and there will no doubt be lessons to be learned, but to be here with one of the best health services in the world and a growing economy is a huge testament to the work of the Cabinet.

So I leave Parliament for recess with a thought stuck in my head: what do we want our virus legacy to be?

I believe a question the public, businesses, politicians and Government all need to think long and hard about and actively make a choice. As a crisis creates opportunity now is the time to harness it for good.

I hope to return in September, rested, refreshed and ready to articulate a positive future for Bosworth and the country.

Luke Evans: What social media says about the Government and the virus. And what my constituents actually said when I asked them.

24 Jun

Dr Luke Evans is a member of the Health Select Committee, and is MP for Bosworth.

Like any other Member of Parliament Fridays are, for me – at least when the House is sitting – constituency day.

Most MPs will tell you it’s the best part of the job. Arguably, it is the bit that counts most. You get to hear about the lives of people in your hometown, the issues that matter to them and, hopefully, you are able to make a difference both in the casework that you do on their behalf and raising important causes in parliament.

Last Friday was my first constituency day since lockdown started – the first time I have been able to go out and speak with ‘real’ people face to face. It’s an experience which never fails to surprise.

I’ve written before about the difficulties facing Twycross Zoo in my constituency and, since it had opened its gates to the public for the first time last Monday, it seemed somehow fitting that my first visit should be to the same place that was one of my last before the Coronavirus crisis started.

What struck me? It was amazing to hear of staff returning, see families enjoying a day out, and witness first hand how many of the primates are enjoying human interaction once more (a serious point, the keepers were surprised that some seemed “depressed” by the lack of interaction – does that sound familiar too? Perhaps I digress).

My afternoon was allocated to a tour of recently reopened shops in Hinckley, the largest town in my constituency. During the week, I had raised the issue of supporting Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) as a potential vehicle to help increase footfall and reduce shop vacancies on the high street, to which I was pleased to hear the Government agree.

It seemed a perfect opportunity, then, to join the Hinckley BID, which arranges visits to shops and local businesses, to see how they are faring.

I thought that they would be inclined to paint a fair picture, especially when it transpired I would be being joined by a local Liberal Democrat borough councillor. The reason for this? I could avoid my own team hand-picking businesses which by their very nature might have been more supportive of the government: in other words, I wanted to hear how things on the ground really were rather than how I might hope them to be.

I’ve long subscribed to the concept that ‘the map is not the territory’ – there are always filters, some conscious and others less so, that affect our perceptions of reality.

It’s very easy to look at social media and see the distortion and anti-Government rage, and easily misinterpret that as the territory. I’ll be honest: I was more than a little worried about what I would hear when I spoke with independent retailers, whose entire livelihoods had been placed at real risk as a result of virus that is – at the end of the day – no one’s fault.

Of course, as I should know only too well by now, social media isn’t the real world, and the comments I met with were in no way representative of what Twitter or Facebook tell me that it is like.

I heard shopkeepers telling me of brisk trade; again and again independent retailers talked about cautious optimism for the sector – “shop local” seems to be resonating clearly.

And above all? A real gratitude that a Government, which by no means has been perfect, has supported them through the darkest of times; a Government responding to the greatest threat of our generation had given them the hope that they can return. The Chancellor’s promise to do whatever it takes had stuck with them, and had really meant something.

At a time when hope could have very easily been lost, that’s a really powerful thing to have done and won’t be forgotten any time soon.

Members of the public stopped me on the high street to talk about support they had and wanted to give to the local economy, a true sense of coming together to make the best of an international crisis.

I was taken aback. Of course, I fully appreciate that those comments are just a differently interpreted map of the same territory.

The only way we can make that map more accurate, of course, is by adding data and it seems to me that, in the bubble, we’ve become fixated on only adding the datasets that we can see on our mobile phones, and not talking to people.

As MPs we need to make sure that we place equally as much value on a conversation with our constituents as we do on 280 characters. Sometimes we all lose sight of that fact.