There is a fierce debate whether one should participate in protests at the time of Covid-19. Especially as the UK toll crosses 40,000.
If you listen to the home secretary, Priti Patel, joining a protest is a terrible idea, because you cannot maintain social distancing. Nor are protesters going to worry too much about hand hygiene and wearing masks, because in a crowd when trying to raise your voice (another thing one must not do as the virus spreads further if you shout) the enemy are the authorities, not the virus.
However, when the Black Lives Matter protests mushroomed in London, following the death of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, choked to death by a policeman, no one could stop them. There is unanimity that the killing needs to be condemned, very strongly, and some policemen in the UK “took the knee” to show their solidarity with the protesters.
So far, the London protests have been largely peaceful. But in a pandemic, many fear they may have risked their own lives and those of their families. We will only know after a couple of weeks what effect the virus had — but when one is angry, taking to the streets is the only solution. Online protests don’t really work — and don’t have the same impact as thousands gathered together, raising slogans.
We will have to find a new way to register our anger! Perhaps as we stood outside and clapped for the Covid warriors, we may need to line the streets (with social distancing) to protest.
The lockdown is beginning to splinter with the cabinet issuing confusing instructions to citizens. Some shops are open. Ikea, for instance, where queues are stretched out for a mile with socially distanced customers standing with their large shopping trolleys. What sort of flat pack furniture did they miss during the lockdown? A wag suggested they were all looking for a cabinet that works efficiently!
Meanwhile having survived Covid, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson is going through an annihilation by politics. Many have realised that he cannot carry the people by being charming and spouting Latin.
Now with social distancing and a hybrid Parliament (where some attend physically and the others online) with MPs speaking from home on Zoom, there is a deathly silence when the PM speaks, every flaw stands out more. Keir Starmer, the new Labour Leader, is a forensic barrister and asks question after question which Boris cannot swat away. His failure to prepare is an old problem, still not resolved.
The quaint practices of Parliament are being exposed as unsuitable for these days — and more technological support is needed. Till now, parliamentarians voted by going into lobbies — one for Aye and another for No. The whole process of passing through the Lobby past the teller, returning to the chamber and then waiting for tellers to arrive, to inform the Speaker of the result takes 20 minutes or more.
The mother of all Parliaments does not have buttons to push from their seats as in India. But how to vote in the lobby with social distancing? The answer is to find better ways to vote remotely. But the Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg is a 17th century gentleman and loves traditions.
He tried an experiment with MPs’ queues snaking from Portcullis House where their offices are, down a subterranean passage emerging on the parliament side, stretching around Westminster Hall and back up through Central Lobby into the Chamber past the Speaker where tellers stood. It took over an hour. Parliament will have to do a dash across four centuries and catch up with remote voting. But don’t hold your breath.
Transport remains a big problem; buses are running though with bus drivers heavily separated from passengers. On tube and trains distance is difficult to maintain but people try. More and more people are on bicycles or scooters or e-cycles. These could well be the preferred choice to travel — and I am also looking for a cycle where I don’t have to push pedals. London’s wonderful public transport was one reason many like us did not keep a car… or do we find a house with a stable and keep a horse? Hmmmm...
The Royal family has set an example. The Queen was out on her house in Windsor— but only after the lockdown was relaxed on June 1.
And what about flights? Prince Charles has come out for his favourite crusade on Climate Change and promised to go to Davos next January. No one is sure how many will actually turn up to hear him live. But it may be better for Climate Change, if Davos went online avoiding those hundreds of flights in luxury aircrafts... will this officially mark the end of the big international conference? Covid would have achieved what Greta Thunberg couldn’t!