Tomorrow MPs will swap dodgy internet connections and politics by Zoom for a real life journey into the House of Commons. Under government orders, MPs who can are to return to Parliament, as part of the government’s drive to encourage those who cannot work from home to travel to the office.
For one group of MPs though, the changes will be more dramatic. At the moment, the government is advising that those over 70 are in a high-risk category and should therefore not really be travelling in to work. So where does that leave the over-70 MPs who can no longer take part in proceedings via video link? And will it change the composition of the Commons?
At the moment there are 24 MPs who are aged 70 or over, split fairly evenly between the Labour party and the Conservatives.
11 Tory MPs are over the threshold, including backbenchers such as David Davis, Christopher Chope and William Cash. Meanwhile 12 Labour MPs are also potentially hit with a ban, including Margaret Beckett, Margaret Hodge and former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The SNP also have a single MP, Marion Fellows, who will be impacted. A further 10 MPs will reach the age of 70 if the rules continue to the end of the year.
There are already a handful of MPs, such as Corbyn, who have so far ignored the government’s advice to stay indoors and have continued to work from Parliament. Mr S understands that Christopher Chope, for example, will be travelling to the Commons.
Meanwhile, Tory backbencher Peter Bottomley tells Mr Steerpike that he is in good enough shape to return to the Commons – he performed best (along with Lord Thomas) when there was an indoor rowing machine in Parliament several years ago, and is ‘fitter now than I was then’. He explained that it would be a ‘bit odd’ if MPs continued to take precautions when pupils are returning soon to class, and it’s about ‘walking toward risks if they are required’. Bottomley, aged 75, also suggested that the age limit should raised to 80.
But not everyone agrees. There are MPs who are pretty livid about being potentially excluded from the Commons if they follow the government guidance to isolate because of their age. Labour’s Margaret Hodge for one says that she feels ‘real fury that I’m being discriminated against’ because of her age. She’s ‘fighting for my right to be a legislator’ and urging the government to change its plans and return to the ‘hybrid’ virtual system. She argues that there’s an ‘arrogance’ in MPs thinking they’re above the rules, and there’s ‘nothing macho about breaking’ them.
As well as the over 70s, there are many more MPs who will not be able to come to the Commons because they are either at risk due to illness, are pregnant, or living with someone in their household who needs to be shielded. However, given the appetite among many of the over-70 MPs to return to parliament and have their voice heard, No. 10 may soon discover that this group have the potential to cause a much larger headache from the green benches.