An MP’s first speech is known as their maiden speech. I gave mine on Tuesday 11 December, a week after being sworn in. It’s traditional to pay tribute to your predecessor, to your constituency, and to lay down some markers about what you hope to achieve without being overly party political. I invited three victims of the riots along to sit in the gallery while I spoke and referred directly to their experiences. Here is the text of my speech.
I am honoured to stand in this Chamber as the Member of Parliament for Croydon North. During the recent by-election, I spoke to thousands of people across the constituency, and one of the things that most struck me in every part of the community was the great warmth and affection for my predecessor, Malcolm Wicks, and the profound sadness that people felt at his passing just a few short weeks ago.
Malcolm was a man of great integrity, a genuinely decent human being, and a man with a sincere and lifelong commitment to social justice. He made a difference, improving support for carers, for children and for older people. In Malcolm, the people of Croydon North had a true champion and a good friend. As many in the Chamber will know, Malcolm had a great sense of fun—he did not take himself too seriously—and that much was clear to the office staff who walked into his office one afternoon to find him bouncing around the room playing air guitar with his good friend Keith Hill, the former Member of Parliament for Streatham. I know that Members on both sides of the House miss Malcolm very much.
Until my election as a Member of Parliament, I had the pleasure and privilege of leading Lambeth council. I am proud of the work I did there, alongside many talented colleagues, to turn around a once failing council. Lambeth children’s services were in the bottom 3% nationally when I was elected leader, but were rated by Ofsted as the best in the country when I left. I hope that that experience of transforming public services will be of value to the House and the people of Croydon North.
At Lambeth, I pioneered the concept of co-operative councils and co-operative public services. I believe that public services work better when they do things with people rather than to people, and that means finding new ways to give people and communities more control over what happens to them. It means giving people the power they need to make the changes they want. We can see the benefit of that in tenant-managed housing estates that become better places to live, in community-led youth services that give young people a better chance in life, and in care services for older and disabled people where the service user has the power and support to choose what they want, rather than be told what they will get.
I pay tribute to the growing number of councils and dozens of other organisations nationally that are pioneering more co-operative ways of running public services so that they are more directly responsive and accountable to the people who use them. This is the future of public services, and I hope to continue championing it here with my colleagues.
I would like to pay tribute to the constituency I represent. Croydon North is one of the most diverse and vibrant places in the country. People have come to live there from across the world. The area’s greatest strength is its diversity. Anyone who walks along the London road, which runs through the constituency, will find restaurants, businesses, faces and languages from every corner of the globe. In an age of globalised trade and communication, that diversity is a resource to be harnessed for the good of everyone. I was heartened by the fact that during the by-election those who sought to divide the community were rejected. People in Croydon North understand that we best confront the challenges we face when we stand together in solidarity.
Croydon North faces real challenges. It is a relatively poor area, and people living there feel let down because the slow decline of the area over recent years has not been addressed. Unemployment is too high, the streets are not clean enough, and people worry that police are being taken off the streets when crimes such as robbery are on the rise. There is real concern that the help and investment promised after last year’s riots have not come through. Croydon was one of the areas worst hit by the riots, and Croydon North bore the brunt of the mindless hooliganism, looting, burning and destruction that so appalled the nation in the summer of last year.
The Rozario family lost their home in a fire, but they have not received any compensation because of a lack of support from the public authorities. The Hassan family saw their business – the sole source of their livelihood – burnt down, but they have been left struggling and in debt, instead of being helped to get back on their feet. Charlene Munro and her four-year-old son fled their home when they saw hundreds of rioters approaching; they returned the next day to find it destroyed. Instead of getting the help they needed, they feel abandoned. These are hard-working people—the backbone of their community, strivers. I want to make a plea on their behalf and on behalf of so many others like them that the promises made to Croydon North after the riots be met in full. The people who live and work there deserve nothing less.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to conclude by thanking you, Members on all sides and the staff of the House for the very warm welcome I have received here. I hope during my term of office to represent the people of Croydon North to the best of my ability. If, when I finally leave this place, I have earned even a fraction of the respect and warmth that people felt for my predecessor, Malcolm Wicks, I will have done well.