Support 100 years of independent journalism.

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.

By Stephen Bush

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. 

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them