Rob Roberts was elected as a Conservative MP for Delyn at the 2019 General Election, replacing the experienced senior minister David Hanson after 28 years representing my constituency, winning with a slender majority of 865. With this being his first stint in politics Rob is the stereotypical newbie: vocal on social media, active with a number of committees and gushing with praise for the government.
His job as an MP, on the face of it, seems rather straight forward to me: listen carefully to your constituents, work in their best interest and effectively represent them in government. In reality, however, it is rarely this simple. Private ambition, political loyalties and party ideology are all factors which inevitably take the sting out of any real progress – did someone say Brexit?!
I hope my apparent cynicism may be forgiven, especially as over the bank holiday weekend a vast majority of MPs had come out in their droves to support the unlawful actions of the governments most senior aide, Dominic Cummings. One by one cabinet ministers came to Twitter to defend Cummings’ actions as “justifiable” and “reasonable”, implying that he had acted as any caring father would have done. Some lesser known newcomers to the chamber, such as my local MP Rob Roberts, opted for a more tentative approach, preferring to be in “possession of all the facts” before coming to any sort of judgement.
Rob’s measured and factual approach to ‘DomGate’ does come as somewhat of surprise given that he has made quite a name for himself on Twitter for jumping to conclusions and misunderstanding data.
On the 15th of March, right at the beginning of the UK’s Covid outbreak, Rob claimed that the UK was doing much better than Italy in dealing with the pandemic, proudly stating that “the strategy is working” – er, in fact, it hasn’t.
Britain now has the highest death rate in Europe and the highest excess mortality rate in world.
The tweet quickly went viral and was met with its fair share of criticism. The tweet has since been deleted and Rob proceeded to ‘block’ those who sought to remind him of his absolute howler. What a funny way for an elected official to ‘do democracy’…
Although it was refreshing to see a politician hold their hands up and admit that they got it wrong, it was a little too late.
Of course, the benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing but the tweet was cavalier and totally misjudged.
Come the 7th of May Rob had penned a letter to Matt Hancock asking for gyms and exercise facilities to be reopened. Now, as someone who uses the gym 4-5 times a week I can completely understand the sentiment of opening such facilities. The positive impact on physical and mental health is indisputable and for many these facilities are invaluable.
However, even by then it was abundantly clear that the transmission of Covid-19 is as a result of prolonged, unprotected exposure between people, usually indoors. As early as the 13th of March scientists were warning of how just one minute of speaking could generate 1000 coronavirus-containing droplets. This came just three days after a woman in Washington is said to have infected 53 out of 61 members of her choir with Covid-19 after a two-and-a-half hour choir practice. Closer to home we have seen repeated warnings about the dangers of travelling on public transport, especially on London’s busy underground, due to their confined nature.
Even with capped numbers, reduced equipment and increased cleaning, gyms would remain a hotbed for transmission. With most workouts lasting anywhere between 30-60 minutes, whether it be on a treadmill, taking a spin class or lifting weights, you’ll no doubt be left gasping for air at the end of your workout. Even if just one asymptomatic individual used the gym, a combination of heavy breathing and shared gym equipment would create the perfect conditions for the virus to be transmitted.
It simply would not be feasible nor safe to expect gyms to open any time soon.
In the end, despite the facts, Rob decided to defend Mr. Cummings, stating in a Facebook post that Cummings acted ‘within the guidance’ and deemed his trip to be ‘on the whole reasonable and consistent with the best interests of a father doing all he could to look after his child’. I accept that Rob, unlike more experienced MPs, has to tow the party line more than most, but this defence simply doesn’t wash.
At the very least, it is undeniable that Cummings broke the rules when he drove to Barnard Castle to *checks notes* test his eye sight.
I find it incredibly deflating to see MPs, not just my own, coming out to defend the indefensible in order to protect their own interests.
All I, and many others, ask for is some integrity. Call things out for what they are: lies and wrongdoings.
People are angry. They feel cheated. This won’t go away by simply brushing it under the carpet.
In a marginal seat like Delyn, which was won on a Brexit vote, Rob has faced stiff opposition from both Remainers and Labour supporters. But this isn’t about left or right, in or out; it’s about right and wrong. I would expect this to be abundantly clear to many MPs, however, the reality is quite different. On this occasion, despite vocal opposition from constituents, many conservative MPs opted to defend the actions of Dominic Cummings. If my MP is to continue in this vein I cant see him gaining in popularity any time soon, at least not with me.