The tragedy of Grenfell was felt all over the nation. I am sure that I speak for all in my constituency, who send their thoughts and prayers to all those affected, and similarly want a swift and timely response from the investigation into the events of that terrible night. The community surrounding Grenfell wants answers, and if we have learnt anything from past tragedies, it is that the voice of the community must be given paramount attention.
I would like first to pay tribute to the people of Leigh for placing their trust in me to stand here as their first female Member of Parliament. This is all the more important as we fast approach 100 years of unbroken Labour representation for the people of Leigh. I would also like to place on record my thanks to my family for all their support—to my mother, my father and my sisters, but especially to my two children, who are the drivers of my political ambition. As a single mother from a working-class background, wanting what is best for them is wanting what is best for the future of everyone in our country. Without them, I would not be standing here today.
Leigh has always benefited from the strong Labour voices that it elects to this House. With that in mind, I would like to pay tribute to my predecessors Harold Boardman, Lawrence Cunliffe and, of course, my most recent predecessor, Andy Burnham. Andy served this House with commitment for 16 years. His work on the Hillsborough disaster and, more recently, the contaminated blood scandal, as well as his strength and passion for truth and justice, will forever be his legacy. This is something that I can only aspire to emulate.
But it was not just this House that benefited from Andy’s work. Andy was a formidable constituency MP, forging great relationships within our communities and fighting tirelessly for those who did not have a voice. He constantly pushed for the regeneration of the constituency, driving projects such as the creation of Leigh sports village, the home of the best rugby league team in the country, Leigh Centurions. I am sure that the House will want to wish Andy Burnham every success in his role as Greater Manchester Mayor. I have no doubt that Andy will use his position to ensure that devolution enhances the lives of everyone in Greater Manchester.
Leigh and its people have always had a sense of social justice, from the towns that lie within, such as Tyldesley, Golborne and Atherton, to smaller villages such as Astley, Mosley Common, Lowton and Atherleigh, each with a historic story to tell. From our early focus on agriculture and the uncontroversial creation of the spinning jenny by Thomas Highs—I am giving him that one—Leigh, like most places in the north, gave way to the might of the industrial revolution, in particular the coal and cotton industries, all linked by its canal networks. The legacy of Leigh’s industrial past can still be seen in the remaining red-brick mills and the iconic mining headgear at Astley, which is sadly the last one remaining in the whole of Lancashire. Fortunately, however, the good people of Leigh want to keep this legacy alive, and I look forward to the heritage project linking coal at Astley, via the canal, with the great cotton mill of Leigh Spinners.
Like most post-industrial areas, however, we have seen years of decline: our manufacturing industry gone and not replaced; infrastructure, such as our rail link, taken away; and town centres declining. That common story is shared by many constituencies.
Social mobility is a huge problem for young people in Leigh, with many unable to get support to go to college or university. A lack of post-16 education leaves our young people only able to access low-paid, low-skilled jobs. We must ensure that new industries and skills are at the forefront of regeneration in Leigh.
I have spent the last six years as an elected councillor in local government and watched this Government’s austerity measures chip away at our essential public services. Cuts to adult social care and children’s services are nothing but an attack on the most vulnerable in our society. But I have also seen our local authorities and communities fight back, supporting and empowering the very people they serve. I am proud to have been a part of the innovative way our services have dealt with such measures, helping communities to do what they have always done in times of crisis: supporting each other, just as they did in the 1980s miners’ strike and just as they are doing now, in homeless shelters and food banks, as well as with countless volunteers who work to keep our heritage alive. That is what is called a social movement—communities who work tirelessly to ensure each other are supported. Today, I would like to pay tribute to those who give their time to do such work.
My own experience of education in the 1980s was not good. Of course there were many success stories in my school, but many people struggled without adequate support, and were not equipped to face the challenges of a changing economic landscape. Many left school without qualifications, ambitions and hope. Today our children and young people face the same challenges, from cuts to early years to cuts to early-intervention grants and, of course, cuts to our schools—the very resource that gives our children and young people the support that they need to do well. We cannot afford to see our children suffer because of ignorance of the challenges faced by our more deprived communities, and I will do all that I can to ensure that all aspects of our children’s lives are adequately supported.
I am proud to stand among Labour colleagues, men and women, and in particular the new intake, all sporting their individual regional accents—how refreshing! I am proud of my working-class roots and of those who built the very area I now represent. When we talk about standing on the shoulders of giants, these are the giants I wish to attribute myself to. Let us not forget that there are giants now who are also making history. I stand side by side with them: our WASPI women; our miners still fighting for their lost pensions; our veterans, who are still not receiving the support they are owed once they leave service; our disabled and sick, who are being unfairly treated by our systems; and our public services—the police, the fire service, the NHS and schools. These are the backbone of our communities, and we as representatives must continue to stand up for them.
There is no good reason for people in Leigh, or anywhere, to endure the insecurities they now face. It is a choice—a choice to defend our communities and public services that I have been sent here to fight for, on behalf of the people of Leigh.