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Cost of Living

Part of Opposition Day — [15th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:34 pm on 24th June 2008.

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Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness 6:34 pm, 24th June 2008

This has been an interesting debate, in so far as we have had sober, thoughtful speeches from MPs on the Conservative Benches, who, like me, spend every weekend on the streets talking to people in their constituencies.

Every Saturday morning, I try to run a street surgery, as I call it, on a street corner in one of the four towns in my constituency, whether on Toll Gavel in Beverley, on Newbegin in Hornsea, in Withernsea or in Hedon. Week after week, people come to speak to me, take me aside and talk about the difficulties that they are having in meeting their basic bills. I have been struck—and pleased, as someone who wants to see a Conservative Government and believes that that would be good for this country—to find that people say, "I've always voted Labour, but now I'm going to vote Conservative." When we look at the context in which people say that and at the weight of their disappointment and despair, and when we consider how much they believe that they were promised and how little they believe has been delivered, we realise how serious the situation is.

Yesterday, a constituent from Withernsea wrote to me to say that their family have a modest family car, but they are selling it because they can no longer afford to run it. Withernsea is a town and has a relatively large number of services, but residents are dependent on other services elsewhere. Other constituents of mine, who do not live in a town but in one of the many villages across the constituency are in a similar position financially but cannot possibly do without a car because of the dearth of public transport and the difficulties that that causes.

When my constituents speak to me at the street surgery, they are pleased to have that opportunity because it at least allows them to feel a connection. Someone from Withernsea, on a very low income, sees certain services withdrawn and needs to feel a connection. They need to feel that there is some way in which they can influence those in power so that they can cause change. When they hear a debate such as this about the cost of living and when, as lifelong Labour supporters, they recall that the Labour party was founded and led by people such as Keir Hardie precisely in order to represent the working poor—the working class, as it traditionally was—they see, instead, a Labour party that has lost its sense of mission. Hundreds of Members—all of us here—are on very high wages compared with my constituents, with high expenses support, too. When those people discover that Labour Members no longer judge participation in such important debates as relevant, their disappointment is compounded further. When they hear speeches such as the one given by Nigel Griffiths, who we all know is extremely close to the Prime Minister, and hear his master's voice speaking with such a level of complacency while the traditional supporters of the Labour Government are suffering and struggling, not least in rural areas, their sense of disappointment is palpable.

I wish I could feel triumph as I sense the political ground shifting as people come over to support the Conservatives, but Labour Members like to say that that shift is not so much a positive endorsement of the Conservatives, and they have a point. In fact, people are turning to us because they want to believe that there is a positive alternative and my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron is offering one.

Most of all, it is the failure of the Labour party and its representatives to stay connected with its original core support that is the problem. A former Labour leader and Prime Minister said, I think, that "the party is a mission or it is nothing"—I might be misquoting him, but that was certainly his point. Where is the sense of mission on the Government Benches? Where is the commitment to do something about those with least in our society?

What has happened to the poverty rate over the past three years? It has increased each year for three years. What has happened to child poverty for the past three years? It has increased. What has happened to fuel poverty? It has increased. Where are the Labour voices speaking up on behalf of the people who they were traditionally here to represent? I could not believe that a spokesman for this failing Government could mention Nye Bevan—he would be spinning in his grave to think that a Labour Government could so let down those with least in our society.

I shall not be able to match the eloquence and power of the speech from my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Cox. His was one of the best speeches that I have heard in this House for some time. He has some rhetorical gifts—perhaps that is a professional requirement—but his speech's power mostly stems from the fact that, like me, he speaks to people who are living the reality of this Government's policies. He is reflecting their passion when he stands up and demands a response or some sense of feeling from Ministers.

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the word that I am about to use, but the Minister in question used it in his blog. He asked, "Why is everyone so bloody miserable?" That from a Minister who is driven around in a chauffeur-driven Prius—

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