The Papers

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Mary in the News Guardian

Health and care workers were deservedly applauded from the start of the Covid lockdowns.

But other key workers were neglected. I’m thinking of those who keep our banks open. Many people can go online but others cannot cope.
Opening the banks was vital for them.

But I have been told that verbal and aggressive behaviour towards bank staff has grown exponentially throughout lockdown.

It’s astonishing how thoughtless people can sometimes be. I was told of the person who put her bank card in her mouth while foraging in her bag.

She then expected the cashier to handle the card and got abusive when told this wasn’t going to happen.

Nationwide Building Society representatives are rightly very worried about abusive and violent actions against their staff.

They asked me to support their campaign in association with the Co-Op and the shop workers’ union, Usdaw to expose abuse of their workers.

An MP who represents the Co-Op is trying to put a Bill through Parliament to toughen the law and further protect retail workers.

The Usdaw union usually mounts a campaign to urge respect for their members and to call for tough action on violence in the run-up to Christmas.

This Christmas is going to be quite different thanks to Covid. We now have the rule of six in social gatherings anywhere and that will kybosh many family gatherings. There may be other restrictions and local lockdowns.

No one likes these restrictions and we may get more fractious and frustrated. But let’s respect those who run risks in serving us. We should always treat others as we would want to be treated.

Mary in the Journal

Parliament returns today and many MPs, including Conservatives, have harsh words for the government over its handling of the Coronavirus crisis.

Many people were inclined to cut some slack for the Prime Minister and his government when Covid first emerged.

They understood it was a novel virus, after all. But a combination of false bravado and double standards at the top have squandered that goodwill.

Immense damage was done to the government’s credibility by Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle for which the Prime Minister’s chief Svengali offered lame and lamentable excuses. It was a major turning point in the government’s authority.

And more recently, we have seen a series of what some call screeching U-turns. Most people understand that ministers should rethink when the facts change, or they become aware of problems. It’s better to U-turn than stubbornly speed towards a brick wall.

But it’s the sheer quantity of such reversals that worries observers.
They often come at the last minute and cause needless chaos for professionals who had been turning every sinew to make things happen.

The newspapers are understandably full of cries of anguish from senior Conservative MPs who can see the damage being to their government’s credibility from their own constituency postbags. They should know that this puts the Prime Minister in the firing line because the fish rots from the head down.

The Prime Minister’s efforts to secure an early election last year and get Brexit done, though that may be a while off in any case, meant he purged his cabinet and replaced independent-minded ministers with yes men and women, lightweights in many cases.

The centralised Downing Street operation means that the Prime Minister’s fingerprints are all over the blunders and miscalculations that have confused and concerned people.

Worse still, from the viewpoint of Conservative MPs is that they are increasingly aware that the majority they secured against a weak opponent in 2019 is not as solid as it seems to be.

They have seen the new Labour Leader, Keir Starmer, politely and forensically knock the Prime Minister for six in weekly Prime Minister’s Questions. That key cockpit of national debate returns in force from tomorrow.

The credibility of the Opposition Leader has steadily increased and one poll now puts Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck.

If I were a Conservative, I’d be horrified and worried that a lead of 26 per cent has become even-stevens though these things can go up and down.

As a Labour MP, of course, I could cheer but it’s not that simple. We are years away from a scheduled general election. I don’t imagine there is any great appetite for an election any time soon.

But the pressing priority, in the meantime, is tackling the virus so that we can increase economic and social activity without a second disastrous wave of infections.

Covid will inevitably wreak profound changes in society. I am, for instance, particularly worried about the North East’s retail sector, which employs the third largest number of people in the country.

We should also all be deeply alarmed about increased levels of inequality in our education system. We should feel for the now even more parlous position of young people who have just left school this year and those in their 20s who have yet to settle into a more permanent pattern of life.

Furthermore, the growing and longer-term roll call of necessary reform in social care, mental health, and housing as well as tackling climate change will require grip and grit rather than gimmicks and smirking rhetoric.

Sadly, the government of chums has been incredibly incompetent so far.

The new darker mood in parliament and the country will, I am sure, hold ministers’ feet to the fire. There can be no hiding place for further unforced errors of judgement. Downing Street must do much better from now on for all our sakes.