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It is an honour to deliver my maiden speech in the debate on our nation’s economic growth. The drivers of growth are the smaller enterprises that inject our economy with creativity and energy. Behind each of those businesses are people with the skills to solve problems, to take decisions and to have the courage to lead. Entrepreneurs and the enterprises that they create, both private sector and charitable, play a uniquely large role in Hove’s economy, too. They also played a big role and a crucial part in my family’s history.
In the last week, I have enjoyed listening to and learning from the maiden speeches of other new Members. Each has laid claim to representing the best and most beautiful part of our country, so, at the risk of offending Members on both sides of the House, it is with conviction and evidence that I explain why I represent the most attractive place to live and work. Hove and its older sibling Portslade enjoy a coastal location that is fully exploited by several miles of unbroken promenade, but my constituency has a double helping of natural beauty. To the north it extends into the south downs, a testament to the beauty of the south of England and a credit to the last Labour Government, who wisely protected that landscape by granting it national park status. Brighton and Hove has two world-class universities and a fantastic social life. It is fuelled by the largest number of restaurants and bars per head of population outside London.
All that explains why our city has been voted the best place to live, the happiest place to live and the coolest place in Brighton—in Britain. [Laughter.] However, we do have a problem with immigration—that is, people flocking from London, buying our property and clogging up our commuter trains. Such is the burden of living in the coolest place in Britain.
My predecessor, Mike Weatherley, championed the importance of performance rights and licensing and introduced to Parliament the much loved music competition Rock the House. I know that Members on both sides of the House will wish him the best.
In 1973, another of my predecessors, Sir Tim Sainsbury, rose to make his maiden speech having won the seat in a by-election. He joined the Tory Government Benches and used his speech to make the following plea to his party:
“We must continue to search for ways by which our economic life can be regulated so that those who are not strong enough to join in the fight are not the first to suffer”. —[Official Report,
Vol. 866, c. 1225.]
Those words still ring true today. Then it was pensioner poverty. Now it is the disabled and the asset poor who suffer most and who I set out to champion.
I had just turned three years of age when Sir Tim made his maiden speech. When at the age of 26 I came to live in Brighton and Hove, he was still serving as the Member of Parliament. The year before, my friend and mentor, Dame Anita Roddick, became the first person to suggest that I go to university, but my application to Sussex University was rejected—understandable, considering I left school with no useable qualifications.
Therefore, at the age of 25, I returned to Felpham comprehensive school and started all over again. From there, I became the first in my family to get an A-level, a degree and then a PhD. I co-founded a Brighton-based film company with my great friend Rob Claisse and went on to become the deputy chief executive of one charity and ultimately the chief executive of another.
All of this was possible because I was given a second chance. Public services were there at the time and place I needed them most. But I stand here today fully aware that youngsters do not get the second chance that I did. How many businesses, charities and PhDs do not exist because young people leave school unskilled or under-qualified? I do not just believe this—I know that every young person has the potential to succeed, but some like me need the occasional support of others to get there. That is why I have undoubted ambition for our public services, especially education, and that is why I will vent anger and frustration if failure in our public services is ever excused due to the challenging nature of the people who need them the most.
There is an aspect of my family life that is also central to my political outlook, and that is the path taken by my father, Les Kyle. He grew up in post-war Liverpool, in conditions of poverty thankfully not seen any more in this country. He left school at 16 and served in the Royal Navy. After he left the service, he took several jobs, including door-to-door salesman. He wanted to better himself and his future family and that meant working during the day and learning at night. When opportunities arose, he took them, like taking a job for a market-leading fibreglass company in Portsmouth. By the time he retired, he was the owner of that company.
“Aspiration” is a word that has been exalted and derided in equal measure and it has rightly become part of the debate about why the Labour party lost the election, but for me it is not an abstract. It delivered my family from poverty and ultimately me to this great place.