The independent London newspaper

Normal political scrutiny should be resumed ASAP

25 February, 2021

Boris Johnson has set out his roadmap to cautiously ease lockdown restrictions

IT is questionable as to whether it is foolhardy for children, teachers as well as millions of parents to return en masse on March 8 – as mapped in by Boris Johnson.

Teachers and unions are worried the Covid infection rate will shoot up.

However, the vaccination programme is such a spectacular success – all credit to the general level of efficiency of the National Health Service – that sooner or later, some kind of return to normality however fragmented, is on the cards.

Certainly, by the early summer. Covid is here to stay, as it were.

Deadly infections are possibly coming about because of the industrialisation of agriculture, deforestations, climate changes, all of which will allow cross infection from animals to humans.

Unless governments the world over are able to reverse this process, mass vaccine programmes will be used to stem it.

The different batch of vaccines used in the UK are not a magic bullet – probably, the population as a whole will have to receive annual shots similar to the flu vaccine.

And in the meantime? A Tory MP for Totnes, Anthony Mangnall, has written in the MPs’ magazine, The House, that in his opinion MPs should “lead by example rather than ask others to go first” and return to Westminster on March 8.

Virtual debates are lifeless things – and the public are more than aware of that.

“Such an act,” writes Mr Mangnall, “would have the knock-on-impact of improving the level of scrutiny. Over the last 13 months there are countless examples of where a properly, fully functioning parliament would have been able to hold the government to account…scrutiny matters…”

Sir Keir Starmer is generally supporting Boris Johnson’s roadmap. This may prove hazardous for Labour: there are so many infection traps in the path, but some return to a kind of normality should be possible – and what applies to the Commons also applies to Camden Council.

Some elected councillors have become increasingly concerned at the lack of scrutiny in the past few months as they become more and more divorced from old-style political reality.

Committees are essential, such as that governing health – and what could be more important considering the scale of the pandemic?

Yet holding officers to account, however difficult, becomes almost impossible as few are at their desks, working “remotely” at home, and facts and arguments get lost in the melee.

We suggest the council leadership should draw up its own road map for a return to a modified style of work – enough to give more edge to sharper decision-making.

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