How have you been organising your life and your office since lockdown?
It’s a learning curve. I’m not fabulous on the technology. The team are based in their homes and using their own computers, and iPads and phones. We are doing Zoom calls most mornings. I have two or three of those a day — for instance with the Labour party and government departments. We’re all working about the same hours — or more than when we were in Parliament. I’m doing phone and TV interviews on Skype. I’m also doing videos and trying to update the Facebook page.
What do you feel the atmosphere is like in Canterbury?
I tend to try to pop out once a day and look around. Every time I go out it’s very nice to see that people are keeping the social distancing rules. People are going out for exercise and not flouting the rules. Whitstable is a bit different. People are letting me know and the police know if there are issues. The police have put on extra patrols around Tankerton.
What issues are you seeing in your mail bag now?
Campaigns on the environment and other issues have taken a drop. Most of our mail is about particular issues relating to Covid19. So someone might be worried about a parent in a care home. Or there could be someone in the NHS saying that we should keep pushing for PPE [Personal Protective Equipment]. And there are lots of issues on Universal Credit: that is huge. And lots of people have been in touch who are self-employed or running their own businesses.
What are you seeing on second homes?
It’s been really difficult to get that message across. We’ve been told about cases of people going to second homes. We’ve been told about families going to second homes, and with friends as well. That’s immensely selfish. I’m staying on my own. My family is down the road. If I can be apart from my family, everybody should be able to follow that example.
So can you tell us why you are on your own?
Where I was living in Westminster was on the edge of a peak Covid19 district. When I moved out a mortuary was being built at the end of the road where I was staying. I was very worried about moving from London incase I had it and then infected my family. So I decided to stay separate from them. I do get to wave at them. I wasn’t infected but, when it was clear I wasn’t, I didn’t think it was right to move in with them. You can’t lecture everyone else and then do something different.
How are the care homes getting on in our constituency?
I try to talk to people running the care homes as often as I can. With one home we found out that they were short of TVs and we put out a call. The response was overwhelming. We’ll extend that to other charities. From day one in Canterbury there were groups which were fund-raising. I know that the care homes don’t have enough PPE. But we have been doing quite well. We were quite aware of what was happening early on. We are pushing and pushing and pushing the Department of Health for PPE for care homes.
And the NHS?
With QEQM [Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate], I got the feeling that the staff were very concerned at first about PPE but that situation has got better. I’m getting less calls from staff now.
How is the volunteering going here?
Canterbury is just brilliant. I am always bragging about the area in Parliament. Because we are by the sea, we have a lot of people volunteering in immigration charities. We look after each other. If I could give out MBEs I would! People have been delivering meals and fund-raising, and also quietly donating and helping their neighbours. I’m really proud.
And the homeless?
I’ve got friends working with Porchlight and Catching Lives, and they have just been quietly getting on with it. These guys really do care. They are making sure that anyone who was homeless has enough to eat. They have rehoused them, all of them, I think. They have shared information with the Council and with us.
And what about local businesses?
A lot of people are really worried. Canterbury City Council has done a really good job. They started to get payments out to people last week. And we can help anybody who does not fit into the obvious categories.
And the future? How do you think things might have changed when we come out of this?
We are now recognising the skills of people who were called unskilled before. We are all now dependent on these people. We are dependent on supermarket staff to provide food, for instance. And they are always so cheery and helpful. That is a big skill.
And we have a real sense of community here. We have been raising money and celebrating the NHS, for example. We’re a bit like a giant village.
Finally, we understand you have a new role now — as a whip. What can you tell us about that?
I don’t know how it works yet! We go back to Parliament virtually in the next couple of weeks. I suspect it won’t be until early Autumn that we will go back physically. So we’re learning our jobs virtually!