British MPs hope coronavirus will accelerate digital democracy

LONDON — British democracy is digitizing in response to the coronavirus crisis — but many MPs say it’s not working well enough.

With the U.K. parliament taking an extended break, and fears it may not be able to return again as scheduled on April 21 amid a rising COVID-19 death toll, MPs from across the political divide are increasingly concerned about how they are going to respond to the thousands of constituents seeking help during the crisis.

From proposals for a digital parliament to calls for a daily question session with ministers, there is a growing push for Britain’s democracy to digitize further and emulate many workplaces that have found ways to operate during the lockdown.

House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle on Wednesday called for parliament to operate “virtually” if MPs are unable to return as normal after the extended Easter break. In a letter to Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg and Clerk of the House of Commons John Benger, Hoyle said MPs should still be able to question the prime minister once a week and submit questions for government departments.

Opposition Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck said it was “frustrating” not to be able to ask the government questions on behalf of her constituents.

Conservative MP Peter Aldous warned that if parliament did not return on April 21 “the whole mechanism of government could come under real strain.”

“Journalists are allowed to ask questions at these [daily] press conferences but MPs who are representing thousands of people who are desperate on the phone to us crying, begging for help, we are not allowed to ask directly or hold anyone to account for that,”

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