By the time this article is published, it will be over a week since I delivered my Maiden Speech at the House of Commons.
A Maiden Speech is a unique address: it is the only speech that a Member of Parliament can deliver without being heckled, interrupted or otherwise inconvenienced by other Honourable Members of the House. In other words, it is a “honeymoon” speech and it is only supposed to last about eight minutes. Nevertheless, it’s a time to speak in a clear, strong voice about what an MP’s priorities are, what they’re concerned about, and what they think.
After paying tribute to my predecessor and talking about how wonderful Peterborough is, I spoke about housing. I began my campaign by stating that we all need a decent place to live. I talked about education; Peterborough’s test results, need to improve, and we need a university. I expressed my concern about the continuing costs of austerity. I also stated my hope that the people of the Middle East would finally find the peace which has eluded them for so long.
The Maiden Speech was a great occasion; it’s a fine custom. Nevertheless, I’m constantly reminded that though the House of Commons is a venerable place, there are a lot of traditions which would be perhaps better confined to the past. For example, I don’t believe the cheering, jeering, groaning and waving of papers adds much to rational debate. I often wonder how this makes the people we represent feel. Also, I’m not convinced that the Queen should have to wear a heavy crown when she usually reads her Speech. There is a notable dry, musty air about the place, which modernity hasn’t been able to freshen just yet.
There is good news, however. There are concerned, committed people who are working hard to fix the problem. John Bercow, the Speaker, is very motivated to ensure that Parliament modernises and stays relevant: he told me that he’s delighted that this Parliament is more diverse and representative of the country it seeks to govern than any one that has come before. But there’s more to diversity than ethnicity: what about having a diversity of mindsets? The government and indeed this chamber has further to go in order to be reflective of the country as a whole.
I admire my colleague Angela Rayner. She comes from Stockport, left school without qualifications, yet through grit and determination, she educated herself, worked hard, and is now the Shadow Secretary of State for Education. We need more people like her in government: individuals who understand and can empathise with the struggles most people face. We need more people who are committed to making life easier and better for others.
By all means, let’s have people with the best education this country has to offer, just so long as there’s room for people who have been schooled by real life.