Despite having successfully functioned remotely for the duration of lockdown, the UK Parliament voted Tuesday to discontinue remote voting and return to in-person voting, leading to comically long queues in and outside of Westminster. This change, however, goes against the very social distancing measures outlined by the Government, which has asked workers and businesses across the UK to continue working from home if they are able to do so.
A poll conducted Wednesday this week by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found the majority of the UK public agreeing with a statement suggesting that Parliament has set a poor example by discontinuing remote voting. Only 9% of respondents disagreed.
Even among respondents who voted Conservative in the 2019 General Election, a majority (55%) agree that Parliament set a poor example in discontinuing remote voting this week. The proportion who disapprove are even higher among 2019 Labour voters (76%) and Liberal Democrat voters (75%). In other words, the majority of respondents from the main three political parties oppose the move now being championed by the Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Indeed, our polling found that among respondents whose work is regularly based outside their home, only 41% of them have left their home for work since the initial lockdown measures were announced at the end of March (this includes essential workers). Thus, with 59% of those regularly employed outside their home making the necessary sacrifices to continue working from home throughout this period, it is unsurprising that a large proportion of the public considers that Parliament is setting a poor example.
Against these arguments, the Leader of the House has insisted that it is important for Parliament to “set an example of how we move back gradually to a fully-functioning country again.” This counterpoint has not been well received by many MPs, including those like Robert Halfon who is currently shielding himself due to an existing health condition. Especially after Business Secretary Alok Sharma showed symptoms of coronavirus this week and a deep clean was undertaken at Parliament, some have argued that given the significant number of MPs over the age of seventy (including Margaret Hodge, Roger Gale, and Bill Cash), forcing them to vote in-person could put them at increased risk of coronavirus (although some of these MPs, including former Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn, have continued to attend Parliament throughout the lockdown). Moreover, enforcing in-person voting is bound to create childcare problems for many MPs, given the impact of social distancing rules on the availability of childcare.
Ultimately, despite the reasons provided by the Leader of the House, our poll this week indicates that the UK public finds this decision discordant with what is being asked of the general public. Moving forward, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies will also ask in a future poll whether Parliament should keep remote voting permanently in place, beyond the coronavirus pandemic, in recognition of these changing times and the benefits to Work from Home that have been made apparent.