Scotland Bill

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 8:01 pm on 8th June 2015.

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Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Labour, Manchester, Withington 8:01 pm, 8th June 2015

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech. It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Karin Smyth, who made an excellent speech. Many Members in all parts of the Chamber have made excellent maiden speeches today and raised the bar very high.

I begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, John Leech. John and I have had many political differences, but I respect his dedication to Liberal values, and no one would deny his commitment to his constituency or his hard work for the people of south Manchester. Despite our differences, we share one common cause. He is, like me, a long-time season ticketholder at Manchester City, and I wish both John and his football team the very best for the future. I pay tribute, too, to John’s predecessor, Keith Bradley, now Lord Bradley. Keith was also a hard-working and committed MP for Manchester, Withington, as well as a highly respected Minister, and he has given me much support and advice over the years. I know he took particular pleasure in my victory on 7 May.

Above all, I would like to say thank you to the people of Manchester, Withington for giving me the huge privilege of serving them in Parliament. I am very proud to do so. It is the constituency where I was born into a Labour family. My parents met at a dance in the 1950s organised by the Labour party League of Youth. My uncle, Albert Winstanley, was Labour election agent in the 1960s for Old Moat ward in my constituency. His electoral ambition was to get close enough to the Tories to ask for a recount—an ambition which, sadly, he never quite achieved, so he will be pleased that Labour won the election in Withington with no need for a recount. Our majority of almost 15,000 was a decisive verdict on five years of the Liberal Democrats propping up a Tory Government that made life harder for the people of Manchester.

I have always lived in Withington because it is the diverse, thriving, vibrant cultural heart of our city. It has areas of deprivation that have suffered badly under the austerity programme of the previous Government, but it boasts successful high-tech industry such as Siemens in West Didsbury. It has great public services, such as world-class cancer treatment at the Christie hospital. It is home to students, graduates and academics from our superb Manchester universities. Although mainly residential, it has fine parks, the Mersey valley and my favourite place, the Fletcher Moss botanical gardens. It is home to the excellent Chorlton and Didsbury arts festivals, and to many people who work in creative industries, such as musicians, artists, poets and—as I was in my former life—DJs.

Withington can even boast of being the birthplace of an Oscar-winning actor, Robert Donat, who won his Academy award in 1939 for his role as a teacher in “Goodbye, Mr Chips”. One of his rival Oscar nominees that year was James Stewart for his role in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, where he played an innocent, decent and principled politician called Jeff Smith. It has always been a role close to my heart—a role emblematic of the difference one individual can make in politics, and I hope I can make a difference in that spirit.

My first political speech in Manchester, Withington was as Labour candidate in a mock general election debate at Old Moat primary school. I remember standing making my speech, aged 11, feeling nervous and somewhat out of place. Some things do not change. I am happy to say I won that election, and have won several since. I am proud to have served for 18 years as a councillor in Manchester—a great city of radicalism, innovation and creativity. It is often said that what Manchester does today, the rest of the world does tomorrow. One of the many areas where this is true is local government, where the city council and the Greater Manchester combined authority are pioneering new ways of working, delivering jobs and growth.

The debate today is about devolution of power and responsibility. Labour is the party of devolution so I welcome proposals for devolution of power to Scotland, as I welcome further devolution of extra powers to Manchester and other cities. The people of the Greater Manchester city region are ready to rise to the challenge of creating growth and improving services, but with the extra responsibility must come the resources to deliver. As a former cabinet member for finance, I am painfully aware of the impact on vulnerable people when local services are starved of Government funding. Local government has taken the hardest hit from Government cuts, and in England it is the poorer, mainly northern cities which have taken the biggest hit of all. If we want our communities to thrive, if we want localism and devolution to work, we must give local people the ability and the resources to make it happen.

After 18 years in Manchester town hall, I had spent a long time in a huge neo-Gothic Victorian building full of politicians, so this year I thought I would do something new. In coming to the House of Commons, I hope to work hard to represent the people of Manchester, Withington, but I hope to fight for wider progressive causes; to combat climate change, the biggest challenge of our time; to tackle the housing crisis that affects so many people in my constituency; to argue for reform of our discredited and ineffective drug laws, and maybe even our discredited and ineffective Prime Minister’s Question Time; to fight poverty and defend human rights in this United Kingdom and abroad; and to create a better country—not one where we balance the books at the expense of the most vulnerable, but one where we build a more equal, more tolerant, more compassionate society.

This is a time to work together to face the challenges of the 21st century, not a time for separation, either within the UK or from the rest of Europe. We build a better world together. A belief in collectivism and fairness is at the heart of Labour politics. Last week I heard maiden speakers quote great heroes—Gandhi and Mandela—but I will end with some words from one of my personal heroes, Bruce Springsteen, who put it very simply when he said, “Nobody wins unless everybody wins.”