THIS weekend I have seen the first stirrings of life returning to Ashford High Street in my Kent constituency.
More shops open, and the welcome sight of money changing hands as people venture out again.
But we are a very long way from anything resembling normal life.
Boris Johnson and the Government know the scale of the mountain they have to climb. The difficulties ahead are piling up.
It is hard to remember the heady days of December and January, with Jeremy Corbyn dispatched, a big majority secured, and, as an encore, Brexit done.
It used to be said that a week is a long time in politics. For Boris, six months must seem like a lifetime.
The first issue, which has not yet gone away, is keeping us safe. Even those of us desperate to see lockdown speeded up must recognise that a second spike of the virus would be catastrophic.
Matt Hancock and the NHS have built one of the biggest testing systems in the world, and our hospitals have not been overrun, but no one is under any illusion that the threat has disappeared.
The second potential horror is mass unemployment.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s protection measures have been better than anywhere else.
But the result is that the Government is paying the wages of 11million workers.
When they stop doing this, as they must if the UK is to stay solvent, what happens next? It would be naïve not to expect a big rise in redundancies.
Undermining of society
On top of that we have seen scenes of disorder with the Black Lives Matter protests and counter-demonstrations.
The violence has come from a small minority. Most of the BLM protestors are decent people with a real grievance, but as ever the revolutionary Left leech on these protests to create a sense of crisis.
This Government is facing one of the most difficult periods any peacetime administration has seen in the last 100 years[/caption]
For them, toppling statues is just a means to undermining decent society.
In case that seems like enough huge difficulties to face at once, I hate to remind you that Brexit has not gone away. We are now entering another period of hard pounding in the negotiations.
Both sides want a deal, but it is not going to come easily.
It is great to see the Red Arrows and their French equivalents flying together over Paris and London as a gesture of friendship, but flypasts are not a replacement for trade deals.
So there is no chance of a quieter autumn or winter.
This Government is facing one of the most difficult periods any peacetime administration has seen in the last 100 years. There are even people talking about a possible “summer of discontent”.
What we need to see now is a rejuvenated Boris at his bounciest.
The PM has always had an ability which is not given to most of us politicians. He can cheer people up. This needs to be deployed as much as ever to restore some confidence to a depressed and grumpy country.
It is not impossible.
Everywhere there are quiet examples of the best of humanity, as volunteers help relatives, neighbours, and complete strangers.
Boris can use words and images to bring this best-of-British behaviour to wider attention. He can show us that even in a crisis — perhaps especially in a crisis — this is a great country.
The way to turn the rhetorical skills to practical effect is to unveil a plan for renewal which will chart a realistic path back to prosperity.
Brits take away pints as pubs reopen with restrictions[/caption]
The speech he is due to make at the beginning of July is seriously important. It needs to have substance as well as soaring language.
We need to hear the reasons we should be confident that the outbreak will continue to die down, and that the first shoots of recovery will flower.
We want to know that the entrepreneurial spirit of Britain will be at the forefront of the economic recovery.
Above all we need to see a clear re-statement of the levelling up programme — policies that will ensure those who for too long have lived in areas left behind by previous booms will share in the next wave of rising wealth.
This will show us that the Government is back on track to deliver the promises made at the election.
A One Nation Britain at home and a Global Britain around the world were the high ambitions the country voted for last December.
No Government could have faced a stronger whirlwind trying to blow it off course than Covid-19.
But now is the time for the Prime Minister to re-set the ship on its original course.
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If he can do that, I look forward to seeing more than the stirrings of recovery in Ashford and everywhere else around the country.
A confident well-organised Government will see fast-growing industries, busy shops and a happier people.
The task is daunting, but it must be completed.
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