Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:39 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Labour, Liverpool, Wavertree 5:39 pm, 18th November 2020

I am delighted to start my contribution to this debate by paying tribute to the key workers on the frontline of this pandemic. Their commitment to public service and their selflessness in the face of the most severe of circumstances set an example to us all.

I am deeply concerned by the dangerous polarisation on public health measures that have been implemented to save lives, and that is what I want to focus on. I am sure that Members across this House have been inundated with correspondence from constituents sharing very legitimate concerns about restrictions that have been imposed in order to protect the NHS, keeping us agile enough to deal with covid, while thousands of elective care patients have had procedures and treatments delayed. This suffering is real. The diversity of the issues raised is phenomenal, spanning mental ill-health, business support, attendance at funerals, redundancies, access to universal credit, and care home closures. We also receive correspondence from constituents reasonably seeking to clarify the rules in respect of their own actions.

On the other side of the coin, we have all received correspondence from angry constituents—on occasion aggressive, even abusive—about the restrictions that this Parliament has collectively implemented, under great duress and with an increasingly heavy heart. Aggression and abuse are never acceptable, but the anger is justified, and it is not taken lightly; neither is it dismissed by anyone in this place, especially coming from those many constituents who have fallen on hard times.

However, I want to shine a spotlight on some of the more sinister and fringe drivers of that anger. A cause for growing apprehension is the misinformation, the fake news and the dismissal of science in the post-truth world that a small number of hardened minds occupy. Assertions are made, social media lies are repeated, and distrust in our institutions, our scientists and our elected representatives is sown in reference to their motives. That translates into real-world consequences. This ugly underbelly has seen a small number of aggressions against those in Liverpool waiting patiently in line to be tested. There have been megaphones outside school gates screaming at parents and pupils about testing, confrontation sometimes of those wearing masks, and the outright dismissal of the growing prospect of a vaccine—a prospect that is giving so much hope to a beleaguered population who yearn to return to some normality.

It is apparent that much responsibility for such behaviour lies with social media platforms: most people receive their information through that medium. People currently have many insecurities, both health and economic, and the misinformation plays into these deeply held fears and is easily shared at the click of a button. My colleagues on the Front Bench are right: the producers of such material should be denied a stage to peddle these lies and myths that have no basis in truth. Ahead of the delivery of a vaccine, we cannot let the naysayers spread further mistrust when so much is at stake for all our people.