Commons Diary: Lucy Powell
Technical glitches, zoom meetings and virtual PMQs; Lucy Powell adjusts to the new reality for Members of Parliament.
I wasn’t sure that life could get much busier when Parliament returned this week, given the huge increase in caseload I’ve had as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, and getting settled in my new role as Labour’s shadow business and consumers minister, alongside home-schooling three children since lockdown began. But I’ve often felt this week that I’ve been strapped to my laptop and iPad, navigating new technologies (well new to me at least!) and conducting business online, rather than face-to-face or on the phone.
With Rishi Sunak leading the Government’s daily press conference I was asked by party HQ to do a virtual media round, from the comfort of my front room. All was going swimmingly, until talkRADIO tried to Skype me during my live BBC interview. Cue stock photos being streamed on TV as my video stopped, and I tried to hang up on them while responding to Huw Edwards’s questions! There’ is also a whole new social media angle judging politicians’ books and backgrounds.
Zooming with Labour colleagues today, with an online drop in for Labour MPs to raise concerns or suggestions with our new shadow chancellor and business secretary. Lots of issues around the Government’s payment schemes. We’re working constructively to raise these with ministers, to get money out the door to business and individuals asap.
This was followed by our shadow BEIS team Zoom meeting. It’s great to be working again with my old boss Ed Miliband and colleagues. We were joined by our leaping Lords for the first time. Bonus points to Baroness Hayter, who had whizzed up the Lords chamber as her Zoom background! Either colleagues have found the ‘enhance my appearance button’ or lockdown is treating some better than me.
Last Zooms of the day were test calls of my internet connection with the Parliamentary digital team as I’ve got one of the first virtual PMQs tomorrow, as well as being selected to ask a question in the statement from the health secretary. Lots of behind the scenes wizardry has been taking place in Parliament to make this all happen and for our democracy to work remotely to keep us all safe. The Speaker and the Parliamentary Digital Service have been superstars.
Excited to have one of the first virtual PMQs today, and for Keir Starmer’s first outing as our new leader of the Opposition. Intermittent internet connection this morning though, which is far from ideal. I got myself set up with a plain white background, as the guidance suggests (no big fancy bookshelves in my house!) and waited to be put in the virtual holding room. MPs who have questions have to join the room 45 minutes before the session starts, and the room is ‘locked’ so no one else can join. It was all going well until my connection broke just after the room was locked. Panic! I texted my friend Jessica Morden who was still in the Zoom room (there were several different “rooms” each containing about a dozen MPs) to get her to ask our moderator to let me back in. Phew! Just in time.
My question went off without a hitch after that thankfully. ‘Lucy Powell in Manchester” boomed the Speaker through my speakers, before I got my question out about the plight of pubs, restaurants and our high streets during this crisis. Cue waiting in a virtual holding pen again to question the health secretary during his statement.
Whether these digital innovations catch on or not, and I hope they will, being able to question ministers from home if you’re on maternity or paternity leave, or recovering from illness, or knowing you’re going to be called in a statement is a real bonus, and helps MPs make an impact and plan their days effectively and efficiently. Who knows, some of these innovations we’ve agreed on might even continue when we’re through this crisis.
Lucy Powell is Labour and Co-operative MP for Manchester Central and shadow business and consumers minister