Langport Leveller Article - January 2021
As time’s winged chariot navigates its usual calendric course and 2020 shades into 2021, I’ve found myself – like, I suspect, many of you - reflecting on the year that’s passed. Of course, uppermost in everyone’s mind is the ongoing battle with – and tragic consequences of- the COVID pandemic – an invisible enemy that’s paralysed large parts of our economy, caused us to second-guess the most basic (and best) of our human instincts and wrought similar havoc across Europe, the US and beyond.
Yet I’m also keen to remember the way in which it has provided room for another virulent infection to grow, too – the incivility, suspicion and reciprocal loss of trust that’s characterised our political discourse over the last five or so years. There’s no doubt that debates around Brexit have provided space for previously marginalised groups – those who’d thought themselves forgotten – to participate in the political process and have their voices heard.
But it’s also given room to those (on both sides of the debate) who have used the question of whether or not we remain in the EU as a symbol of something different – a shorthand for a world-view that accepts no compromise and regards opposition as a moral failing. Now that the Prime Minister has done what many said was impossible – negotiated a deal and had it approved by Parliament – one hope is that we can return to a more civilised and respectful brand of politics.
For me, politics is where aspiration and policy-making meets real life – a process in which the overriding concern is what is both desirable and possible. It’s not a species of theology, in which the best outcome is to detect your opponents in some type of ideological heresy. For my own part, I’ll be continuing to argue robustly – but without an assumption that those who think differently are badly motivated.
And that reciprocal civility will be crucial if my other two hopes are to be realised. Firstly, a concerted effort to roll out the two vaccines which have now been approved and, as a consequence, a return to the normality for which we all yearn. Over the last nine months, my team and I have been helping an unprecedented number – tens of thousands - of individuals, organisations and businesses.
The opportunity to help and serve those in our part of Somerset is something for which I’m hugely grateful. But the volume of correspondence is also an index of the damage done to our communities and economy. So as the vaccine finds its way to the most vulnerable and life begins, in the coming months, to return to normal, my priority will be to unleash the dynamism of our area. We’ve seen progress on the A303, improved broadband – and my campaign to see a new station in the Somerton/Langport area mentioned and given initial funding in the Chancellor’s last Spending Review.
But the key to rebuilding in our area is not physical or digital infrastructure – vital as those are. It lies in the bubbling entrepreneurial zeal of our communities – the human capital that constitutes our most precious resource. It’s that unsquashable energy that gives me the greatest optimism that this time next year will see us in a very different place - with Brexit behind us, the economy gathering pace and the virus tamed.