The Tories partied while my dad died during COVID. I'm glad they've been voted out

Lynda Wardley believes the Conservatives' handling of COVID - and the Partygate scandal in particular - contributed to their heavy election defeat.

Lynda Wardley. (Supplied)
Lynda Wardley believes the Partygate scandal contributed to the Tories' heavy election defeat. (Supplied)

As part of its election coverage, Yahoo News spoke to voters around the country on the issues that would sway their vote. We spoke with Lynda Wardley, a COVID campaigner, the day after the Conservative Party's electoral defeat for her reaction. Read more from our election 'Your Voice' series.

When Lynda Wardley heard the Conservative Party had been voted out of office she felt "relief and heartbreak in equal measure". And while it is a new chapter for the country, for Wardley it was also a reminder of the personal tragedy she suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.

“There has been so much travesty, corruption and poor conduct in government and through the pandemic. While I am glad the Tories are out, it won’t bring back dad,” she tells Yahoo News.

“No one should forget what happened during the pandemic. The Tories partied while our loved ones died.”

Wardley’s dad, Robin, was suffering from dementia and living in a care home in Maidstone, Kent, when the pandemic broke out in March 2020.

“Dad had made good progress with his dementia,” says Wardley, aged 59. “He could put sentences together, read newspapers, ask for bank statements and phone me - but it all changed when lockdown hit. Not being able to see his children absolutely destroyed his mental health.”

Lynda Wardley. (Supplied)
Lynda Wardley had to wear full PPE when visiting her dad in a COVID ward. (Supplied)

In the months that followed Wardley, who is a qualified occupational therapist and a professional carer, barely saw her dad.

They had phone calls outside his care home window, and sporadic 10-minute visits outside where Wardley would be masked-up and socially distanced.

“We saw dad deteriorate, deteriorate and deteriorate. He was so down," she recalls. “On one window visit he was withdrawn, preoccupied and he could hardly keep his head up and there was no recognition of me in his eyes.”

In December 2020, when London and the South East was in lockdown Lynda’s dad spent Christmas alone in his care home. It was to be his last.

Lynda Wardley. (Supplied)
Lynda Wardley's father, Robin, died during lockdown. (Supplied)

In January 2021, Wardley’s dad was rushed to Maidstone Hospital with breathing issues caused by the coronavirus. He battled for five days before dying at the age of 84.

“I'm glad that I got to spend Dad’s last moments with him unlike so many people,” says Wardley, who speaks very highly of the care and support she had from the NHS.

“I played Dad recorded messages from my siblings who couldn’t be there as they were shielding. “I told him I was grateful for the experiences we had had with him, that he had a new granddaughter and that I loved him.

“But I was wearing full PPE, in a COVID ward, separated by four thin curtains as I heard people around me on the phone talking about being able to go home.

“It’s not the way anyone wants to say goodbye to their dying parent.”

At the funeral, only eight people were able to attend due to restricted numbers, people shielding or too worried about the risk of getting COVID.

“Dad had his send-off in the town we were raised in. His funeral should have been packed. I wanted everyone to know how wonderful he was, his life in the RAF, his passion for motorbikes and my memories of sitting on the bonnet of his car handing him spanners. Instead, there was just a handful of people. I felt numb,” says Wardley.

While she acknowledges the pandemic would be a difficult time for any government, she believes being separate from her father contributed to his death.

She says: “The measures the government took cheated me of Dad’s life. He would have lived longer if he hadn’t been separated from us. Seeing us was keeping his memory alive and keeping him going.”

Lynda Wardley. (Supplied)
Lynda Wardley says he was 'floored' when the Partygate scandal emerged. (Supplied)

Wardley, who became involved in Rights for Residents, a grass roots campaign fighting for the rights of residents in care homes, adds: “Whatever is happening in the world there is no excuse to separate vulnerable people from their relatives.”

Wardley lives in Matfield, in the Kent constituency of Tunbridge Wells, which has been staunchly Conservative since it was formed 50 years ago. On Thursday, however, the Tories lost a 15,000 majority to lose to the Liberal Democrats. It was one of 251 seats lost by Rishi Sunak's party on a catastrophic night and Wardley believes Partygate played a big part in ushering the Conservatives out of power.

“When the news of the parties hit, I was floored,” Wardley. “I was climbing the walls with grief. I’d had to tell Dad there’d be no Christmas and it happened to be his last as he was dead within a month.

“I cannot believe by anybody’s reckoning that partying and ignoring the very rules you put in place could ever be ok.”

Lynda Wardley. (Supplied)
Lynda Wardley says her father deteriorated during lockdown. (Supplied)

She adds: “The pandemic was terrifying in itself but it was the way the government handled it that made me feel so afraid. The scientific and medical community weren’t listened to. The Matt Hancock scandal was devastating.

“There were medical staff so short of masks they were putting them in an envelope and freezing them so they could reuse them. People were wearing bin liners and frantically searching for PPE because what they were given was substandard. It was a horror show.”

Wardley met her partner, Charles Persinger, after both joined the Covid-19 Bereaved for Justice campaign group. Persinger, 59, is a support worker and lost his mum Susan and wife Katie to coronavirus within six weeks of each other.

Katie worked in a care home and died from the disease while trying to save others.

Wardley is hoping for some answers when the COVID Inquiry releases its report later this month, plus she wants reassurance that if there is ever a future pandemic, lessons will have been learned.

She says: “Having a Labour government is a fresh start and a chance for the country to heal but the government has much to do to rebuild trust. I’m not sure I will ever stop feeling angry about the way the Tories treated us but at least they aren’t running the country anymore.”

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