Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Industry (Government Support)

Part of Opposition Day — [1st allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 4:25 pm on 16th June 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Tom Blenkinsop Tom Blenkinsop Labour, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland 4:25 pm, 16th June 2010

I congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on your new position. I also congratulate the new Members-Dr Lee, and my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), for North West Durham (Pat Glass) and for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher)-on their excellent speeches.

I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House for the first time as the Member of Parliament for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, particularly during a debate on industry. I follow in the footsteps of my former employer, mentor and friend Dr Ashok Kumar, who tragically died on 15 March this year. He was a polite, courteous and conscientious local community leader with an exemplary knowledge of manufacturing, processes and industry in general. More than that, he was loved in our area not just for his tenacity and work ethic, but for the warmth that emanated from his every pore. The people living in the hills, valleys and suburbs of Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, whom he served with a selfless and determined devotion, will miss him terribly. He will be a hard act to follow.

It is a great honour and a privilege to represent the constituency where I was raised, and that I call home. Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland is a microcosm of British society. It includes former mining villages such Loftus, Carlin How, Skinningrove, Brotton and Skelton, large estates such as Hemlington and Park End, market towns such as Guisborough, leafy suburbs such as Nunthorpe, Marton and Coulby Newham, and seaside resorts such as Saltburn, where I live today. Those are all areas where I have personal memories of growing up.

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland encapsulates some of the diverse and interesting communities that make our country great, and those communities are a reflection of their industrial setting. My area bore men and women who assisted a son of my seat, Captain James Cook, to build the Endeavour from local timber to sail and discover Australia. Centuries later, the descendents of those same people helped to build the Sydney Harbour bridge from East Cleveland iron ore and Tees river steel. Today, my constituency still provides and proudly manufactures steel components at Corus Skinningrove and at TC Industries-places I know very well-where, alongside fellow workers at TCP Redcar, whom I represented as their union official, and with our two local papers, the Evening Gazette and The Northern Echo, we have fought to keep our proud steel-making heritage. That campaign still continues.

Many of my constituents work in and around the Wilton and Billingham chemical sites. A proud tradition of mining still continues at the Boulby potash mine; it is still going strong. Important institutions such as TTE bring on and train apprentices to be our next generation of skilled workers.

My seat also has a rich and varied agriculture. It has begun to diversify into a bourgeoning tourist industry, and a rapidly emerging digital economy, supported by our local Teesside university. That rich diversity was represented excellently by Ashok, an Asian MP in a predominantly white seat, who in his own maiden speech reflected upon following in the footsteps of local Labour heroes who overcame prejudice to build a better and fairer country for the minorities of the future. He talked about Billy Mansfield, an East Cleveland ironstone miner who left school at 13, and from the pit face to Parliament, as Ashok said, fought for his class and his people. There was also Ellen Wilkinson, who represented the old Middlesbrough East constituency throughout the early 1920s. She proved, against the conventional wisdom of the day, that a woman could successfully promote the needs, aspirations and dreams of a heavy industrial region.

As Ashok always reminded me, without the Labour party none of these huge cultural shifts could have been achieved. I am proud and humbled to be following in the historic tradition set out by my predecessors. The voices of the people of my area are ringing in my ears when I enter this House every single day. I am thinking of voices such as June Goodchild, a local community activist, who has strived for her estate in Easterside for years and achieved great things for her community by working in partnership with her local Labour authority in Middlesbrough; and Robbie Middlemas, a Skinningrove steelworker and community trade union site official, who for the past 24 months has led his members through some of the most difficult days that they have ever witnessed at Skinningrove. There has been a similar situation down the road at TCP Teesside. I am thinking of voices such as that of Ian, a local entrepreneur who lives next door to my parents, runs a small chemical fabrication business and has been helped by One NorthEast. Their lives will not be improved by over-simplified ideological positions and a reliance on the invisible hand of market forces. Sometimes the reason why that hand seems invisible in areas such as mine is because it is not, in fact, there at all.

The new coalition Government seem intent on a withdrawal of public funding, and a rolling back of the state and of the work of regional development agencies such as One NorthEast. The coalition blame red tape and not the real culprit: a lack of long-term secure capital specifically set aside for a manufacturing base-it is a base that has historically provided revenues to keep leafy idylls in the south leafy. This ideology condemns my area and my people-the people of Teesside-to a bleak future. This ideological short-termism fails to seize the opportunities that the level of sterling currently offers in building on our manufacturing export markets; money could be reinvested in vital research and development projects. This bleak future undermines market certainty for any prospective private long-term investor in my area.

It has always been necessary for the public sector-or, rather, the Government-to take the initial risk in investment, so that private investment would follow with assured certainty. The new coalition Government see this public spending, on my home town area, as a huge waste. They apply a perfectly rational, liberal, laissez-faire logic-they say that if the market does not invest in the area, it should be left-but where does that leave the people I live alongside, who need jobs and opportunities to feed their families? This monetarist logic is not new; neither is the grim condemnation of my area's people.

Another predecessor of mine waxed lyrical in his maiden speech about the fact that the world-class British TCP site produced 1.5 million tonnes of steel with 25,000 employees and within the period of terminal Tory rule could then produce 2.5 million tonnes of steel with only 5,000 employees. This is a grim logic of no industrial support and a grim Government who defer to an inflated natural level of unemployment. But in this era, the deliberate attack upon jobs in my area is now targeted at the public services, public servants and the voluntary sector. These are all jobs that provide a market for the private sector. Public sector jobs make up the lion's share of employment in my constituency. Prior to the election, both the Lib Dems and the Tories promised to protect front-line services, but we have seen jobs for the young cut, incentives for employers to employ cut, training for the unemployed cut, grants to build housing for people with learning disabilities cut, funding to offer college places to all 16 and 17-year-olds not in employment or education cut, funding for the police cut and free school meals cut. Those are all the real coalition anti-job policies. In addition, if this coalition raises VAT on 22 June, it will hurt the poorest people and the smallest businesses the most. The only VAT rates that should be raised are the current 0% rates on private health care and private education, which only the rich can afford.

So, I come to this House with great regret for my area that Labour is not in power and with great anxiety and fear over what the future under a Tory-led coalition Government will bring. However, as a newly elected representative, I pledge here and now to be vigilant in the face of every threat to the livelihoods of the people of my constituency and never to give up fighting for those who elected me.

Embed this video

Copy and paste this code on your website