Today’s debate on public sector pay is about the sort of people who ensure that this Fratton boy had the sort of opportunity and aspiration that I want every single young person in Portsmouth to have. Public sector workers and Pompey people are key to delivering this ambition for my constituency. I will say more about that later.
First, I am grateful to those who have made it possible for me to make this maiden speech today—the people of Portsmouth South, who put their trust in me at the election. I promise that, as long as I have the privilege of serving in this place, I will be an active local campaigner and a strong national voice for Portsmouth, across every single community. I would like to thank my family and friends for also putting me here in this place, and the good employers of Basingstoke Voluntary Action for allowing me some holiday to fight the election.
I pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Flick Drummond. While only in this place for two years, she served it well and was an advocate for women’s and transgender rights. I wish her well as the new deputy police and crime commissioner for Hampshire—a task, sadly, made harder by cuts to police in Portsmouth.
My first job in Portsmouth was as a playworker, serving the most deprived parts of the city—a city where, even today, too many families are still living in poverty, and where too many are still being held back. Coming from a working-class family with a background in public services—my father, a former youth worker, and my mother, a hospital cleaner—I have learned the value of good public services, of meeting local needs and of working hard to help others.
Proud to be Portsmouth through and through, it is my great city I now want to talk about. The home of Dickens, Kipling, Conan Doyle, Brunel and Amanda Holden, Portsmouth is a city of many firsts: the first to hold a football league game under floodlights, the home of the first person to use an umbrella, the first to open free clinics for the treatment of venereal disease, and the first co-operative set up by dockyard workers.
It is an honour to be the first ever Labour MP for this historic constituency, in a city that, throughout its history, has punched above its weight. It is the home of the Royal Navy and our nation’s new carriers, and the birthplace of British authors, world-leading engineers, the greatest football club in the land, in my opinion, and the occasional Labour Prime Minister—but one step at a time.
The constituency is made up of communities united by a sense of pride in Portsmouth. It is the home of world-class businesses built on the tradition of creativity and innovation that drove Britain’s industrial revolution. Portsmouth’s success gave Britain a competitive advantage that has persisted into the modern era. We are a city of doers and a city of makers. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that the success of the UK has been intrinsically linked to the success of my great city.
The spirit of this innovation is driving success in Portsmouth’s modern economy. Through my conversations with business leaders, I know that there is the potential to build an economy that creates well-paid jobs for the many, not just the few.
Portsmouth continues to leave an imprint on our world. We welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, who take with them an understanding of British naval history and an affection for a modern British city that has an unrivalled waterfront and world-class events.
Maybe it is our military reserve that means the people of Portsmouth do not shout about our military success; they just get on with the job. It is this spirit that has fortified the city in the most testing of times. During wars and emergencies, my city has gone and done the job. In the two world wars, it played a key role in delivering victory and winning the peace we all enjoy today. My own family, like millions of other families across our nation, played a role in the second world war, fighting against tyranny—my grandfather leaving Southsea seafront on his 17th birthday to liberate mainland Europe on D-day. I am hugely proud of the strength and courage shown by all communities across Portsmouth during Europe’s darkest hour. The city has a spirit and a determination that is second to none, and that is why I love it.
The sadness for me, though, is that far too many people in Portsmouth are continuing to fight their own battles, whether it is the daily battle to earn enough money to make ends meet, the battle to find a good school for their child or the battle for a property they can call their home. These are the challenges, plus so many more, that people up and down this land face every day. I want Portsmouth and our nation to tackle these individual challenges head-on. I want our society and our economy to be vibrant and diverse, so that we can tackle these individual battles that ordinary people are facing, and make it our collective responsibility to resolve them together.
I want to help create a future that is better than the present, where hope replaces division, and where everyone—and I mean everyone—is better off. We know from our history that there is no challenge that we cannot face by working together, so this is my call to every Member of this House: unite to tackle the everyday challenges of the many. If we do this, I know that Portsmouth’s and Britain’s best is yet to come.
Most disturbing for me, though, is that the generation that literally fought for our country is now facing new battles. With adult social care and our NHS in crisis, the elderly are uncertain in their old age. This is not the world that we promised them. We promised them homes fit for heroes, and we are letting them down. We are not providing them with the level of public services they deserve, due to the current funding and staffing crisis, where years of pay freezes have created challenges for recruitment and retention.
I want the people who keep our communities safe, who educate our children, who defend our great nation and who save lives to be shown that people in this place understand, value and respect them. That is why I was proud to stand with Portsmouth nurses last week in the lobby of Parliament, and why I am particularly pleased to be making my maiden speech in today’s debate.
My own sister will be relying on the care of these nurses at my local hospital, the Queen Alexandra, in the next few days. She will be giving birth to her first child. Sadly, she cannot be here today, but I am personally delighted, because I fear she may give birth in this place—not another first I would want to see.
As I said at the start of my speech, it was public sector workers who gave me hope and who taught me never to accept it when someone said to a Pompey boy, “You can’t do that.” What motivates me now is one simple notion: to ensure that the opportunities of a good education, a good home or a job are not limited to the privileged few, but can be enjoyed by all our citizens, regardless of where they are born.
For as long as I continue to enjoy the privilege of representing the people of Portsmouth South, I will fight for a future in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not just the privileged few. Every day, when I—a Fratton lad—arrive in this grand place, I will not forget who sent me here. I will be a local campaigner and a strong national voice committed to serving their interests.
So, to all those young people growing up in Portsmouth, as I once did, my message today is this: aim high and work hard, and you will achieve. Never, ever accept anyone telling you that you cannot achieve.