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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech during an important debate on education and skills. Both are vital to the future success of my constituency, albeit a greater challenge following the sustained underfunding of Stoke schools.
It is a privilege to have been elected as the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central in an election that was not planned and following a campaign that, all too often, did not do justice to the wonderful city that I now represent. Many of my colleagues on these Benches—and, I would wager, on the Government Benches—who came to Stoke-on-Trent during the by- election would struggle to reconcile the vibrant, welcoming and proud city they visited with the portrait painted by the national media. All too often, cameras lingered over disused bottle kilns, while our resurgence in hi-tech ceramics went unmentioned. Journalists posed by abandoned shop fronts, just yards away from the city’s thriving cultural quarter, and rarely did our world-class university feature in reports. Commentators talked down my city in order to play up their narrative. They dismissed a capital of culture as little more than the capital of Brexit, pigeonholing my constituents into a box that does not reflect their true character.
While that narrative suited those seeking to win the election on a platform of hatred, division and nationalism dressed up as patriotism, it did a grave disservice to my city, whose motto is “United strength is stronger.” My city demonstrated that nationalism of any sort has no place in our politics. My challenge, for however long I am blessed to represent Stoke-on-Trent in this place, is to champion everything that is great and good about our city; to recognise our problems, but to highlight our many achievements; and to shout loud and often about why the Potteries, above all else, is the best place in the UK, if not the world.
In the Potteries, we are innovators and educators, artists and entrepreneurs. We pioneered the first industrial revolution—something that has been discussed quite a lot this afternoon—and we have the potential to lead the next. We are the home of Reginald Mitchell, Josiah Wedgwood, Clarice Cliff and, more recently, Robbie Williams. But, most importantly, we are home to the Staffordshire oatcake—a delicacy seldom found outside of the ST postcode but which, once savoured, is never forgotten.