‘You can’t just wait for pandemics to come’: Hornsey and Wood Green MP Catherine West on the coronavirus response
- Credit: Polly Hancock
The UK must learn its lessons from the coronavirus pandemic, insists Hornsey and Wood Green MP Catherine West, who says: “you can’t just wait for pandemics to come”.
With parliament in recess, Ms West believes elected politicians should return to the House of Commons as soon as possible to scrutinise Whitehall’s response to the public health crisis.
As part of a wide-ranging interview with the Ham&High, Ms West spoke about the government’s coronavirus response, the spate of crime at Alexandra Palace boating lake, Haringey’s community resolve, the adjournment of Parliament, and, concerning her role as shadow minister for sport, the roles and responsibilities of the Premier League during the shutdown.
Government’s Covid-19 approach
Starting with coronavirus and Whitehall’s response, Ms West urged the government to ramp up its testing and future preparedness for public health crises.
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Specifically, she pointed to emergency food parcels being provided by government and, in her view, the need for them to be of higher quality.
“The quality of food is very poor,” she said.
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“This is a national scheme so it sounds good on paper but there are there are three things which are troubling – number one there’s not enough food, secondly there are inappropriate sorts of food, for example sausages, and thirdly the general nutritional value of the food.”
Ms West said health inequalities prevented food parcels actually reaching the isolated and those most medically susceptible to Covid-19.
The pandemic thereby showed the need for a “proper” food strategy, Ms West said, which she believed hadn’t been on the public agenda since Jamie Oliver’s school dinners’ campaign swept TV screens in 2005.
“We know good food exists in the borough,” the MP continued.
“People have allotments and we have access to good food in the supermarkets.
“It’s great people are getting something but I think in terms of sustainability of another three months we have to make calls to push up the quality.”
Haringey’s community response
Ms West said she was proud of the goodwill and neighbourly spirit displayed by Haringey residents and grassroots groups following the coronavirus outbreak.
“It’s wonderful to see local people reaching out,” Ms West said.
“Working together we’ve seen some of the best in our community coming out.
“It’s lovely to see that neighbours are helping each other and that shopping, for example, which used to be quite a pleasure I think for older folk, has become a bit frightening because of the panic buying.
“So a lot of neighbours are shopping on behalf of their other neighbours, a lot are reaching out and I think that’s a real positive.
“These are the sorts of things that give me hope.”
Alexandra Palace crime
Despite coronavirus helping bring together the community, it has also magnified incidents of crime at a time when people are most fragile.
Ms West said she was concerned over recent incidents at Alexandra Palace, for example, where people have been pushed into the boating lake.
The MP said she had spoken to Haringey’s police chief, Det. Ch. Supt Treena Fleming, who told her investigations were ongoing and that the crimes were “probably” committed by youths.
“It’s pretty worrying, particularly at a time when people are feeling vulnerable with Covid-19 anyway,” Ms West said.
“I think that Alexandra Palace, its building and garden are wonderful, and particularly at this time we should be looking after it and cherishing it, making sure that it’s safe for everybody to use.”
Ms West said she had been briefed on the Ally Pally incidents and would be writing to the Met to follow up, adding: “I’m hoping that this is a one-off and not part of something more serious.”
The Hornsey and Wood Green MP said she disagreed with the decision to shut down parliament, leaving her and other members unable to air constituents’ concerns and hold the government to account.
“I don’t think parliament should be adjourned at all – I think we should be sitting even in a time of national emergency.
“I don’t think all 650 MPs are sick at the same time.
“If we were losing 600 people a day to a terror attack we’d all be in there asking questions.”
As shadow minister for sport, Ms West called on the Premier League - some clubs of whose have furloughed staff - to pay its fair share during the coronavirus crisis.
Yet rather than focus solely on the riches of the elite level, she said the grassroots game – across all sports – must not be left behind.
“In terms of the Premier League they really do have to share out the goodies here,” Ms West said.
“The clubs have to act responsibly and ensure that the whole ecology of the sport can continue because we’re not taking about a short time here.
“We could be talking about a very long time and it’s crucial that all of football can keep going.”
Ms West said 18 million people play football every week, which was “fantastic”, but that the game had to rebalance its top-down structure when normal service resumed.
She said: “In order for grassroots football to continue and to keep the same level of interest we need to share out the finance and not allow the elite level to carry on in the same way as though nothing has changed.
“Everything has changed with coronavirus and they [the Premier League] need to accept they might have to take a bit of a hit themselves.”
The newspaper industry, and in particular local press, has suffered a difficult period since the outbreak of Covid-19.
While online traffic has increased, sales of newspapers have fallen, staff have been furloughed or laid off at certain publications, and in some instances papers have ceased to print as advertisers have pulled out.
Ms West said all efforts must be made by government to support the local press.
“Local newspapers play a crucial role in keeping the community together and keeping the community informed,” the Hornsey and Wood Green MP said.
“Many a campaign has begun with a local newspaper and led to a significant improvement in the lives of our community, for instance how the Whittington Hospital’s A&E department was saved in 2010.
“There’s a lot of decision-making at the local level and just like every elected member, local councillors need to be held to account too, and I speak as one who used to have two newspapers breathing down my neck every week and it did improve decision-making, and it did improve transparency.”