I should start by making two points. Firstly, I made clear at the start of the Coronavirus crisis that I would support the Government in making the right decisions to get through it. I might be from the Opposition party, but we all need to work together to stop the spread of this virus. As Keir Starmer made clear, now is most definitely not the time for opposition for the sake of opposition.
Secondly, I do not underestimate the health impact of this crisis. It is becoming increasingly fashionable in certain parts of the media (and the Internet) to play down the seriousness of Covid-19. This is incredibly dangerous – thousands have sadly died across the UK and I have experienced first-hand the debilitating long-term effects that the virus can have. Long Covid is affecting thousands and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
My opposition to closing hospitality businesses and the nonsensical 10pm curfew is not, therefore, because I’m trying to cause trouble for the Tories or because I think that the threat of Coronavirus is overplayed. Neither of these things are true. I’m against these two elements of Government policy precisely because I want to see the virus under control.
At the start of this crisis, the Government were keen to make it clear that they were “following the science”. This was never really possible in the most literal sense, but we now know that they have repeatedly ignored their scientists’ advice entirely. The decisions being made are political. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but they should be honest with us that this is what they are doing. The evidence at the moment shows that transmission is happening primarily in homes rather than hospitality venues and that the 10pm curfew drives people from Covid-secure pubs, bars and restaurants to off-licences and then on to illegal house parties.
People are understandably frustrated at the restrictions on their freedoms. Many of these restrictions are important for public health, but any that aren’t helping shouldn’t be imposed.
I’m lucky to have many fantastic local businesses in my constituency – in both Tameside and Stockport borough – where people have invested time and love into creating something special: Post Room, Howard’s Neighbourhood Bar, Istanbul Grill, I Knead Pizza, A Tavola, Heatons Hops to name just a few. They have also put time, effort and money into ensuring that they are Covid-secure and the Government should recognise it.
Finally, I’d like to add my voice to those calling for a rethink on the support package for businesses and employees in Tier 2 – the restrictions Greater Manchester’s now under. We have more restrictions than Tier 1, but less support than Tier 3 – we need support to reflect this.