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I wanted to speak in this debate because I believe it is important to add my voice, for what it is worth, from the Government Benches and from a first-time Conservative seat, on the tax credit reforms.
I represent part of the great city of Plymouth, which has for some time been a stronghold of the Opposition in recent elections. Indeed, my seat was once the domain of the Leader of the Opposition, such was the political landscape in our history. However, Plymouth is changing. We may have at times benefited from the nuances of being almost entirely state-dependent for our income, but the modernisation of the dockyard has had a profound effect on the demographics and outlook for our city. We now have second and third-order effects of long-term state dependency visible in generations of our residents.
In recent years, we have seen real benefits as the fundamentals of our local economy have changed. That resilient yet ever-evolving Janner character has seen us become a haven for marine science in the south-west, with companies such as MSubs, which was visited by the Chancellor in his last stop in the city. We have some genuine world leaders in hi-tech manufacturing and our charity sector is something that those of us who call Plymouth home are extraordinarily proud of. We have three fine higher education institutions. We are home to the world’s most adaptive and resilient fighting force in 3 Commando Brigade. We are a city that cares, regardless of background, and I look forward to turbo-charging this agenda in the years ahead.
As times have changed, so has the vote. On the Government Benches, we do not think it is right that people should be better off on a life on benefits than those with young families who work hard and contribute to the system. The welfare state is a truly remarkable thing: a system that makes me proud to be British, and a system that provides a safety net to those who need it and security for those who fall. The harsh reality, however, is that the system failed in places like Plymouth. In places like Plymouth, the system offered a life on benefits with income up to £26,000 for a family of four, such as my own. We cannot blame people for one minute for seeking this way of life, but we can look at the system that encouraged it. That is what my party is rightly doing.
I must urge caution with respect to these specific changes to tax credits. We all take individual journeys to this House, but mine was very clearly to represent my constituents above all else and to do what is right by my city. If I am to truly follow through on this, it would be remiss of me not to recount the extraordinary levels of feeling in Plymouth last weekend. This bright, vibrant, exciting and predominantly blue collar city, where in the last general election we saw lots of new and first-time Conservative voters, has serious objections to the tax credit reforms. It is my duty to represent them here in the people’s Parliament where they, and no one else, have sent me to work.
There is a general understanding out there for welfare reform. The policies are, in my experience, very welcome by many in a city that many people would see as entirely failed by the Labour party. Those of us at the coalface every weekend trying to help, encourage, gently persuade and even inspire a generation of young people, feel emboldened by the drive towards self-sustainability and independence of the Government’s reforms. However, my duty—again, I seek not to bang on to those far more experienced and capable in this House—and indeed our duty is to shout for our most vulnerable: the 10% I talked about the other night in the armed forces mental health debate in this House; those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves on the fringes of society, and who, for a bit of bad luck and a couple of wrong decisions, could be any one of us.
I stand here as a compassionate Conservative, and unashamedly so. There is a good reason why I was not a member of this party before I decided to stand as an MP last year, but I have no doubt at all that the party is changing. I am proud of our current Prime Minister for the direction he is taking us in. I am one of those who thought that one of the Prime Minister’s bravest moves was to bring in same-sex marriage. I would have struggled to be here today without his personal stewardship, and, when we are winning in places like Plymouth, it is clear for all to see.
It is clear to me that Plymouth's view is that, while welfare, and by extension tax credits, must be reformed, these measures must be supported by mechanisms that protect our hardest hit, with precision targeting and strong messaging. I today urge the Chancellor to provide something—anything—that might mitigate the harshest effects of this policy on our most vulnerable. There are people far more intelligent than me who will provide data and statistical analyses in favour of or against the argument. Indeed, they have done just that. I seek not to go against their carefully considered arguments, but British politics is at a crossroads.
I seek not to denigrate Opposition Members, some of whom I know personally and have deep admiration and respect for, but we have an entirely chaotic Opposition who have so completely lost their roots in the traditional British left as to provide no stable for almost anyone in their right mind who has Britain’s best interests at heart. We must seize the opportunity to welcome to our stable people from all previous political backgrounds. Let us look again, work harder and find a way of bringing this overdeveloped and harmful tax credits system back under control, but let us do it in a way that looks after what should be our core vote.