Westminster Diary: Adapting to home working during coronavirus crisis

St Albans MP Daisy Cooper is getting used to working from home.

St Albans MP Daisy Cooper is getting used to working from home. - Credit: Archant

Welcome to my Westminster diary. Each week, I’ll be giving a behind-the-scenes take on what life is really like as a new MP. From jeering and bobbing, procedures and prayers, I’ll be lifting the lid on the mother of all Parliaments. Think ‘The Thick of It’ not ‘House of Cards’!

Parliament has had its first full week working from home. Without the means to create a ‘virtual Parliament’ in which normal procedures could be adopted online, the House authorities brought forward the Easter recess, forcing MPs to resort to conference calls only. Nonetheless, from the comfort of my home office, work continued apace.

Most surprising was the change to my daily routine. Normally, in Parliament, you can have your entire day’s schedule planned, only to have everything change as early as 10am if there’s a new development. This week, in the midst of an international crisis and working remotely from my colleagues, I moved to a consistent daily agenda despite enormous developments each day.

Each morning this week, I dialled into a call with the Cabinet office, designed for MPs of all parties to raise issues that had arisen or intensified in the previous 24 hours. The big issues for most MPs this week: getting personal protective equipment to front-line workers, Brits stranded abroad, supermarket delivery slots, and the need for more detail on the previous evening’s headline announcements. This did vary: one MP asked for advice on behalf of a constituent who wasn’t sure whether they were still allowed to walk their geriatric dog four times a day.

At times inane, at times poignant, on these daily calls I have often not known whether to laugh or cry. With 70 plus MPs on the line however, the most important thing was to remember to stay on ‘mute’.

Daily phone and video calls have been the lifeline to getting things done – with the Cabinet Office, my office team, our local council leader, and other MPs. Emails on the other hand, have been the hotline to local residents: each day hundreds of emails come in and with my remote-working team we’ve been at full tilt to triage each influx then maintain the admin to make sure no case gets left behind in all the toing and froing.

As an MP, my team and I have had to adapt and to create new working processes for this remote but faster moving world. Parliament can’t stay on recess forever, it will need to adapt too and quickly if democracy is to be part of this new reality.