Rob Butler M.P. on life in these strange and difficult times

The rapid learning curve of becoming an MP in a snap election has accelerated many-fold, as the coronavirus pandemic quickly saw constituents turning to me for help in the most desperate situations. Casework about difficult neighbours or potholes has been replaced by urgent appeals for assistance accessing the government’s grants to save jobs, or be allowed into hospital to visit dying relatives. We are newbies no more: it is no excuse to have only had this job for a few months when your constituent’s life or livelihood depends on your help.

The government machine has, on the whole, been excellent at keeping MPs up to speed; ministers have been accessible, helped by the dozen or so PPSs appointed from the new intake of MPs who have proved invaluable at linking the inexperienced with the senior decision-makers.

I am extremely fortunate to represent a constituency in Buckinghamshire, where the five MPs and the local authority are all Conservative. It shouldn’t matter at a time like this, but too many colleagues in other parts of the country are facing difficulties with councils of other political colours being difficult or obstructive. All that anyone should care about now is saving lives and returning to some form of normality; this is not the time for petty party political disputes.

Teamwork has been the key – whether with my own staff, some of whom hadn’t even started to work for me when the crisis began; with fellow local MPs, each of whom brings different insight and experience; or with the local council, which has been phenomenal in its work, not least as it transformed from two-tiers to a unitary on April 1st, in the midst of the emergency.

Participating in Justice Select Committee meetings remotely has had its moments, with a laptop perched on a pile of books to get the eyeline requested by the technicians, but for the most part we have been able to fulfil our role of holding the government to account, and assessing how our justice system is coping with the crisis.

The camaraderie of the Commons has been replaced by WhatsApp groups which have come into their own, as we share suggestions, ask questions, provide moral support to one another and occasionally laugh at the latest meme.

If there is anything positive to come from this crisis, it is the astonishing part played by volunteers in our communities. I have had the privilege of joining groups collecting for the food bank, delivering groceries and dropping off prescriptions across my constituency. In town and villages alike, there are amazing acts of kindness being shown by residents to their more vulnerable neighbours. Let’s hope that this spirit survives well beyond the end of the virus.

It is not the start to my parliamentary career that I, or anyone else, would have wished for. But it has shown what we as a country can do when faced with such a dire emergency, and how members of parliament can play even a small role in helping their constituents get to the other side. What we will find there is likely to become another steep learning curve, but I am optimistic that together, we will climb it and become strong again.