Debate on the Address

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 5:25 pm on 25th June 1987.

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Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen , Nottingham North 5:25 pm, 25th June 1987

1 am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my speech in the first and the most important debate of this new Parliament.

I am proud to stand here on behalf of the people of Nottingham, North — the community in which I was born and raised, and which has sent me here to fight for its interests. Nottingham, North is a community now on the borderlands of a Britain divided between the stricken north and the affluent south, a borderland which produces a political turbulence which I hope will be strong enough to make and unmake Government majorities. The sooner that that happens, the better it will be for all of us.

I gladly continue the convention and pay tribute to my predecessor — a Conservative — Mr. Richard Ottaway, who in his time as Member for Nottingham, North acquitted himself both in the constituency and, I understand from his colleagues, in the House with dignity and courtesy. He and his party fought a skilled and professional local campaign, and it is the highest possible tribute to the Nottingham, North Labour party workers that we emerged victorious from the contest. We will relearn much from our opponents, not least the basics of the effective use of organisers at national and local level, the use of telephone canvassing and all the modern campaigning techniques.

The brilliant flash of a four-week campaign at national level, while it is essential, should he only a complement to, and not a substitute for, the years of unglamorous organisational work that is necessary to underpin our Democratic Socialist ideals at local level. We must learn quickly so that we can win the next election, but also so that we can be at our most effective in opposition over the next four years.

This is necessary above all because in the country, and in particular in my constituency—where we are afflicted with a Conservative council as well as a Tory Government — people will look to us to defend them against the excesses and extremism that seep from every pore of the Queen's Speech. The quaint parliamentary language remains the final veil covering the real hideousness of the "hidden manifesto" to which the electorate were not, and still are not, privy.

I am indebted to the older hands on the Labour Benches who suggested that I read the maiden speech of my predecessor. In 1983 he rightly referred to the industrial might around my constituency, to Boots the Chemists, Raleigh cycles, the royal ordnance factories and Babbington pit, one of the local collieries.

My first sad duty is to report to the House that since that time Babbington pit and our neighbouring colliery of Hucknall have closed, Boots has "restructured" and Raleigh cycles, a shell of its former self, has been sold off —an ironic monument to the bankruptcy of the "on yer bike" philosophy. Royal ordnance factory Chilwell and Thorn EMI have closed permanently, and ROF Nottingham is to be privatised, which will lead to further job losses in conventional arms manufacturing in my constituency. What a boost it would have been had this House now been committed to strong, secure conventional defence instead of one-sided, rundown and multi-faceted job losses in my constituency. The other industrial giant in Nottingham, North, John Players Tobacco, has only postponed redundancies at the expense of fellow workers in Swindon.

Ten thousand jobs have gone. Ten thousand real people with real families have been wasted. That is Nottingham's profit from the victory of 1983. We want those jobs back and I want to make it clear to the House and the people of Nottingham that my overriding priority will be to undo the damage caused by what are called the Thatcher years so that all those men and women who want work can have it.

The east midlands as a region for so long protected from the recession has been catching up with a vengeance. The same applies to Nottingham's council estates and to our hospitals and pensioners and to all the other areas that lie emaciated by a Government fat on the arrogance of 13 years of unfettered power.

The Queen's Speech today piles on the agony and I will seek to make my contribution as the Labour party exposes the proposals line by line while promoting our positive and constructive alternative inside and outside Parliament. We must demonstrate, especially to the young, that the practice of our democracy amounts to more than a four-yearly TV special. Then, and only then, will "anyone with a conscience" refuse to waste their vote on third parties whose only contribution has been to deliver a second and third term to a Government despised by half the nation. However, that debate will await another day.

Impatient as I am as a newcomer to Parliament—and if 1 had a desk, I would hang it—I wish to avoid the pitfall of William Cobbett who made his maiden speech early in the 19th century after listening to just one debate and pronounced: Mr. Speaker, it appears to me that since I have been sitting here I have heard a great deal of vain and unprofitable conversat ion. Mr. Speaker, since I have been sitting here it is clear that the electors of Nottingham, North have given me more than a ringside seat to witness today's drawing up of the battle lines for a new Parliament. In the face of overweening Government power, I hope for a Parliament in which Back Benchers will be not merely onlookers but participants. With your assistance, Mr. Speaker, and in Gladstone's words, while we will not run the country we will and must, ever more effectively,

hold to account those who do.