Can parliament function as normal in an era of social distancing?

As they gear up to return to Westminster, MPs have concerns and face logistical problems.

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Homeworking in parliament has come to an abrupt end, with MPs returning to work "as normal" in June when the Easter recess ends. Normal that is, up to a point. MPs will still be observing social distancing in the Commons chamber and when they vote, the socially distanced queue for a division would be more than a mile long, Matt Chorley reveals in The Times(For MPs in search of a good audiobook, I recommend The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mantel.)

It remains to be seen if parliament can function like this  — and because the average MP is aged 50, many parliamentarians are worried that the end result will some of them falling sick, perhaps seriously. 

But many Conservative MPs are happy to be returning. Government whips are concerned about the consequences distance working has on dissent — it is harder, they say, to keep a lid on rebellion when the rebels are spread about the country. 

The thing is, Conservative troublemakers think the opposite: one reason why so many Tory backbenchers are quietly pleased to be coming back is they think it's an opportunity to flex their muscles, to make trouble for the government to assert themselves in areas where they think the government is going wrong, be it China policy or tax-and-spend.

They can't both be right — and both groups might yet find that the political backdrop of a second wave in parliament ruins all their endeavours. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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