I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. It may be a different kind of Christmas this year, but I am hopeful with recent vaccine developments that we will all be reunited in the near future.
Please see my full Christmas message below, which has also been published in the Craven Herald.
This Christmas, it will be hard not to think about the relentless impact of the Coronavirus upon everything we hold dear. Christmas is a time for family to come together yet this will not be possible for many families across the country.
In order to protect you and your loved ones, the Government is asking everyone to think very carefully about the risks of forming a Christmas bubble and to keep it as small as possible whilst minimising the time in your bubble.
There have been no school nativity plays to go and watch, few carols sung and visiting your place of worship will not be the same. There has already been much pain this year and we have had to sacrifice so much. Many people here in our community have joined the millions across the world who have died or become seriously unwell as a result of the virus – and my thoughts and prayers are with all those who have lost friends and family this year.
Since becoming your MP, I have never received as much correspondence as I have over the last nine months. My office and I have been working flat out to help my constituents and this will continue to be the case though the winter. From reading many letters and emails everyday as well as speaking to my constituents at a safe distance away or on the phone, there is no doubt about how hard it has been in every imaginable way.
Many of us live here in North Yorkshire for the tranquillity, the peacefulness and the beauty of the great outdoors. Yet now our high streets see unwanted serenity and quietness with footfall at unprecedented lows. Businesses, large and small, are facing the most challenging of circumstances in living memory; many have had to shut temporarily whilst some have now shut permanently.
A trip to the pub now can feel like a special occasion when only last year it was just a place for a catch up. Many families have seen little of each other this year and I feel incredibly sympathetic to those constituents who have only had limited contact with their loved ones residing in care homes.
Loneliness also has infused into the lives of many and reducing our social contacts has taken its toll on the mental health of many people we know. It is clear that some think the restrictions have gone too far and have caused too much disruption to the economy. Others, however, believe the restrictions have not gone far enough.
I absolutely appreciate the wide variety of views and understand the strength of feeling that exists.
Whilst no one believes the Government has got everything right, I am sure everyone can acknowledge the unparalleled state of affairs and the vortex of pressures on policymaking over these times. Indeed, the Government has had to strike a careful balance between primarily saving lives and protecting public health with fortifying our economy and keeping jobs afloat.
However, as we get past Christmas and deeper into the winter, these tough times are unlikely to yield.
That is why everyone must continue to be vigilant with social contact and continue to follow the rules and guidance from the Government. Even in normal times, winter is when the NHS is under the most pressure and it is critically important that we continue to protect NHS capacity as we move into deep winter. This was at the forefront of my mind in supporting the re-introduction of the localised tier system across the country earlier this month. These tough measures are supported by the health care professionals I speak to regularly.
I am absolutely convinced we can all get through winter and I am also absolutely convinced that we will renew, recover and build back better as a nation. The resilience of the local community and local services has been particularly striking to me. Local officials and health care professionals have done outstanding work but it has also been neighbours and volunteers who have helped the most vulnerable in our communities. Whether it has been helping with been food deliveries and online orders or just the regular chats over the garden fence, I am sure these gestures – however small – will be much needed this winter.
Local business, moreover, have also done their bit to help and so many have gone above and beyond to support the community. When shortages became evident earlier this year, distillers and breweries – such as Whittaker’s Gin in Nidderdale – transferred some of their operations to making hand sanitiser. Such initiatives are further testament to our community’s resolve and resilience.
Thinking about the new year ahead, I am acutely aware that life must return to normal as soon as it is possible and safe to do so. The vaccine rollout has been encouraging and I know many constituents have already had their first dose administered. Indeed, due to the vaccine roll-out along with recent developments on testing, we will – over the coming months – be able to rely less on economic and social restrictions and more on scientific solutions.
The Government believes these advances provide confidence that as we approach spring, life can begin to return closer to normal.
I hope this gives you and your family some encouragement that the end of these toughest of times is in sight. This is, I believe, all we can wish for over this festive period.
Rt Hon Julian Smith CBE MP