Covid-19

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:13 pm on 11th November 2020.

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Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East 6:13 pm, 11th November 2020

I would like to begin by thanking the many frontline workers in in my constituency in Nottingham—my friends, my neighbours and my constituents—for the hard work that they are doing to get us through this virus.

Like everyone here today, I was excited and hopeful to hear the news of Pfizer’s promising new vaccine. After months of painful sacrifices, there may finally be a way out of this crisis. It is early days, and we have to be cautious in our optimism, but we must do all that we can in the House to make sure that once a vaccine gets the go-ahead, we make its roll-out a success, and keep people safe in the meantime. That is why I am concerned about the rise of conspiracy theories. People across the country have had leaflets dropped through their doors warning against wearing masks. They have seen stickers saying that covid was a plot by a shadowy elite, or come across websites making false and disproven claims about vaccinations. Anti-lockdown protests have also been happening across the country, often featuring placards with known antisemitic tropes, or promoting the far-right conspiracy theory QAnon.

When I hear from people who become interested in these ideas, I get it. I do get it. I understand why people are scared and frustrated, and why they are looking for answers. It is hard being separated from your loved ones for months on end, worrying about how you are going to pay the rent and make ends meet and, in the meantime, watching the Government make a complete mess of the handling of the crisis. It is painful to know that, while we have had to sacrifice our friendships, passions and mental health, those in power have failed us over and again: from ignoring their own scientific advice, which made this lockdown longer and harder, to failing to protect jobs and livelihoods, failing to plan and leaving our frontline workers without PPE, and reportedly spending £12 billion on a privatised test and trace system that proved to be a shambles. It is hard to blame people for becoming suspicious when they see the Government awarding multi-million pound contracts to their friends and donors, often without even a competitive tendering process, or when they see the Prime Minister’s closest adviser flout lockdown rules without any consequences.

When we spend time home alone isolated, it is easy to fall down dangerous rabbit holes and to start believing that it is all a lie, that the virus is a conspiracy or that lockdowns are unnecessary and merely a tool to control people. But we know that that is not the answer. I think all of us, in our heart of hearts, know that, even Sir Desmond Swayne, who has vacated his seat. It is our responsibility, as Members of this House, every single one of us, to fight this pandemic of misinformation, which is spreading like a virus and is sabotaging people’s efforts to save lives.

I am also concerned that some people are exploiting people’s pain to spread their hateful agendas, like the British National party, which, for the first time in my living memory, has been sending letters to small businesses in my constituency, or those ready to sacrifice human lives in order to stay relevant and boost their careers. I am referring here of course to, among many others, Nigel Farage, who in March was criticising the Government’s herd immunity approach and is now rebranding himself as the leader of the anti-lockdown movement.

My constituents have made it clear to me that they are not having any of it and that our city is not having any of it. I hope that everyone in this House can join me in condemning the cynical and ridiculous way that people, and the far right in particular, are exploiting people’s suffering to spread lies.