THE Christmas season is a time to celebrate, to strengthen, and to heal through the love of family, friends, and community. For Christians across our country and around the world, it is one of the holiest times of the year: a time to reflect and affirm faith in God and Jesus Christ.
This year, Christmas is an opportunity to reflect on what has been a difficult year for all of us, but also to be thankful for those who have gone above and beyond to keep others safe.
As well as a celebration of faith, Christmas is a time for family. But, for many, there will be an empty chair at the dinner table this year. More than 60,000 people in the UK have tragically lost their lives to the coronavirus. And, although restrictions may have been eased for a few days, many families will still be separated this Christmas for fear of spreading the virus and to protect vulnerable relatives.
My thoughts are with those who have lost someone dear to them this Christmas, and for those spending this month alone in self-isolation.
FOR all the loss and difficulty, we should not let this year be defined by pain. Throughout this pandemic, we have also seen the best of humanity. At the beginning of the pandemic, 750,000 people signed up to volunteer to support our NHS. Now, many of those volunteers are signing up to be trained to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine.
Our religious institutions and local communities have banded together for the common good, showing us the very best of Britain. People have supported neighbours by donating to foodbanks, delivering items, or simply picking up the phone to those self-isolating.
Many businesses, despite struggling themselves with the economic impact of the pandemic, started manufacturing PPE and sanitiser, or made up food parcels for hungry schoolchildren during the holidays.
This Christmas, I know that everyone will be thinking of the heroes of the year: NHS staff, carers, and frontline workers. That weekly “clap for carers” was a moment of emotion and national solidarity. We owe our carers and key workers a huge debt of gratitude. This Christmas, carers and emergency workers, alongside other key workers, will step up yet again, sacrificing precious time with their families to continue to keep us safe.
I know that everyone will also be thankful this Christmas for the tireless work of our scientists, and the half-a-million volunteers who participated in vaccine trials. While we’re not out of the woods just yet, we have taken a huge step forward in getting our society back to normal and, crucially, protecting lives.
CHRISTMAS is also a time for us to reflect on our own actions over the past year. It has been an unusual time to be in Opposition. Many hear the term “Opposition” and expect them simply to reject anything that the Government puts forward. But, when I became Leader of the Labour Party in April, I promised constructive opposition to help the country through the pandemic.
That means supporting ministers when they get things right, and challenging them to improve when they get things wrong.
None of us can pretend that the Government has got everything right. But, more than ever, it has been important for the Opposition to echo the Government on issues such as following health advice, and opposing dangerous anti-vaccine misinformation.
Earlier this year, I said that I want this country to be the best place to grow up and grow old in. And, as we enter the next year, I’m reflecting on how I can continue to play my part in making that the case. This vaccine brings us all hope, but, once it is rolled out, we cannot just go back to business as usual. We must build a better future — one in which people are not left to sleep on our streets at Christmas, or in which children go to bed hungry on Christmas Eve.
The best of British values that we’ve seen over the past year are also the best of Christian values. The Christian community has always been at the forefront of social activism, seeking justice and speaking truth to power.
As we move towards 2021, we must look to these fundamental lessons of Christianity as a blueprint to build a better society for everyone.
Sir Keir Starmer MP is the Leader of the Labour Party and the Opposition.