Covid-19 in the Commons: ‘How can you plot and keep two metres apart?'

<span>Photograph: Imageplotter/Alamy Stock Photo</span>
Photograph: Imageplotter/Alamy Stock Photo


I get in to parliament early for a remote TV interview with Sky TV’s Kay Burley. She cuts me off saying “Chris Bryant loves to have the last word but I’m not going to let him!” Afterwards Twitter points out the record of Eartha Kitt singing I’m Still Here behind my left shoulder. I then battle with uncooperative IT before remotely chairing the standards committee.

Then to the chamber. There are signs everywhere saying “keep left” (insert your own joke here) and “keep moving”. So the corridors of power are transitory. No huddles allowed. One of the whips quips: “How can you plot when you have to keep two metres apart?”

The big issue of the day is whether MPs should be allowed to participate remotely from in front of their bookcases. Those with shielding responsibilities understandably don’t want to be excluded, but the leader of the house, Jacob Rees-Mogg, winds us all up by saying we have to “return to work”, as we all feel as if we’ve been working 24/7 for weeks.

We have two votes – on how to vote – which involve MPs traipsing round the bend for more than kilometre. Kevin Brennan calls it the “Mogg Conga” but none of us will qualify for Strictly. We lose the votes, but afterwards two members of the cabinet scold me: “We hoped you’d win.” Another tells me: “Keep on calling votes all the time, and they’ll give in pretty quickly.” Back home, I catch the appalling news from America.


Everyone looks about a decade older than when I last saw them. Or maybe it’s just their hair. Edward Timpson is sporting a bouffant in search of a medallion. Robert Courts boasts that his wife has cut his hair rather beautifully. Ed Miliband says his wife has had three goes at his, but he still looks very Desert Island. My No 4 clipper-cut doesn’t seem to impress anybody.

Rees-Mogg tells us no MP should be too grand to queue, which makes me wonder when he last queued at Lidl

Since only 50 of us are allowed in the chamber at any one time, I sit in my office for a series of video meetings via Zoom, Teams and Skype. One is about the local after-effects of Storm Dennis. Lots of homes were flooded and parts of a coal tip slipped into the river. The council now have to find a new home for 60,000 tonnes of slag. I also catch up with local police, who tell me the Cummings saga has made enforcement of the lockdown 10 times more difficult.

The rest of the day is taken up with trying to overturn the previous day’s votes. Ten minutes after I leave the Commons I hear the government has caved in. Some MPs can now participate remotely after all.


I spend most of the morning in the chamber, asking questions about support for theatres and how coronavirus has hit the poor. Rees-Mogg tells us no MP should be too grand to queue, which makes me wonder when he last queued at Lidl.

The Commons tearoom is open because it’s classed as a staff canteen. It’s a real luxury to eat food that I haven’t cooked myself.

I drive back to the Rhondda.


I am inundated with emails and Facebook messages. Should people be camping on the top of the Rhigos mountain? Why is there a 5-mile limit in Wales? Should people cancel their summer holiday?

One good thing. The Welsh government is giving a £500 bonus to care workers. Initially that left out ancillary staff, but now cooks and cleaners are getting it as well, so we just have to persuade Rishi Sunak not to tax it.

I chat to a lady who is desperate to visit her husband, who is in a local care home. My heart goes out to her. The weekly catch-up with the council leader focuses on reopening schools and the campaign to keep the local A&E. In the 1st Trealaw Scouts Zoom meeting I am asked about chlorinated chicken and whether Boris Johnson needs a haircut.

My mother-in-law Jo hasn’t seen a soul since lockdown began, so she was really looking forward to popping round to sit in the garden with us. It rained, so we huddled under separate trees.