Published — 21 December, 2020

View from Westminster

A lot of people will be glad to see the back of 2020.  And as befitting the bleakness of the year, its passing will happen quietly, sombrely and without fanfare.  There’ll be no fireworks from around the world and no crowds linking hands and singing Auld Lang Syne.

It was a year that brought new words or phrases to the English language or promoted some which were little used.  Before March many had never done ‘a Zoom’ or ‘a Teams meet’.  Coronavirus was a little-known term and COVID-19 unknown.  ‘Self-isolate’; ‘support bubble’; ‘shielding’; ‘furlough’; ‘lockdown’ – little-used words previously which dominate our daily lives now. 

Our spare bedrooms or kitchen tables became home offices and rang to cries of “you’re on mute”. Parents often became teachers, we exercised with strangers through YouTube and many of us took groceries and prescriptions to people we had never met.  People have told me how they have learned to bake bread and about many other new skills in the new time we had indoors or explored on walks the areas around them that they had never done before.

But most significantly, and tragically, it is a year that has seen over a million die of a previously unknown virus; millions more taken ill and many suffering from long-term effects that could affect the rest of their lives.

Those statistics demonstrate how difficult it is to take positives from 2020.

We have though learnt some things about ourselves and one another which I hope we can carry through into 2021 and beyond.  And we have also learnt lessons that reinforce that which we already know but perhaps didn’t recognise enough.

Community matters.  We looked out for our neighbours who were elderly or less well than us. We got in touch with support organisations to volunteer our services.  Street-based groups sprang up to help those around them.    

Our public services delivered.  Most of us will have clapped for the NHS this year.  But our applause was also a tribute to all our key workers.  I know that our councils did amazing work supporting businesses and delivering leaflets to ensure people knew where to go for help – I pitched in with that alongside them.  We didn’t need a pandemic to know how brilliant our public services are but it was a very powerful reminder.

The private sector stepped up too.  The food industry and retail as a whole ensured, in the midst of some panic-buying, that stocks of food and goods were by and large maintained. There were no disruptions to power and fuel supplies. Companies like Harrogate Tipple re-purposed their production to make hand sanitiser and the Treasury responded when we took the case to them by nationally waiving alcohol duty for sanitiser production.  Big chains and small independents alike gave priority for key workers to shop in their stores.  The staff at the Nightingale welcomed pizzas from the Fat Badger. 

Our voluntary sector looked after us.  When it came to it and people needed support fast to get food, prescriptions and other essentials – including company – our vibrant and active voluntary groups knew what to do.  They formed community hubs in Harrogate, Knaresborough and Boroughbridge and did whatever needed doing to support the elderly and the vulnerable.

As we approach 2021 we can be certain that life will slowly return to normal.  We have several vaccines that have finished or are finishing clinical trials.  Care for those with COVID-19 has improved as our knowledge of the virus has increased meaning more people are likely to survive even severe cases.

But that will take some time and as we quietly move into the new year we must show patience and further restraint as that process takes place.

So as I wish you a peaceful Christmas and a different and better 2021, I wanted to take this opportunity to salute those who got us through 2020. And there are many.  It re-affirmed the pride I feel in representing the area where I live.  I hope you too found pride and hope in how we pulled together for the common good.

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