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Valedictory Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:03 pm on 5th November 2019.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Independent, Putney 4:03 pm, 5th November 2019

As long as nobody heckles me, I am sure I will absolutely be able to stay to time.

I want to start by saying a massive thank you to, first of all, my office team, who are up in the Gallery. They have done an absolutely incredible job for so many Members here over many, many years. I have to point out particularly the long-suffering Kate and Nikki. Without their assistance and support and that of the rest of the team that I have got with me today, I would never have been able to do any of the rest of the things that I have been able to achieve for my community in this place.

Other Members have explained what it was like for them when they first entered the House. For me in 2005, winning back Putney from the Labour party was quite big news, and I found myself in the middle of a media storm from minute one of my time as an MP.

Michael Howard came down the next day to, as I thought, congratulate the brilliant team at Putney Conservatives who had helped me with that amazing victory. I stayed up all night organising his visit as the great leader, and he promptly turned up and resigned right by my side. Perhaps the best legacy from the few months that he had left in his role in 2005 was that he got back together a parliamentary party that had been in opposition for quite some time. He had us talk through different policy areas, and we discovered that, other than arguing about Europe, we had much more in common than that which divided us.

My time in this House has obviously been the greatest privilege of my life. I did not plan to be an MP, but I did it because I think people matter. I hope that I have always been a strong voice for people in Putney on the issues they care about, and I have simply sought to take their priorities and make them mine. My campaigning on Heathrow was perhaps an early indicator to the Whips and my party that I would stand my ground on local issues that matter to my community. I started my time here doing that, and I like to think that I have finished my time here doing that not only on Brexit, on which speaking up for local communities is crucial, but on a whole range of other issues, such as air pollution, quality of life, aircraft noise, and improving our transport. We were able to modernise Putney station and get improvements to Southfields station, and the lifts at both stations now mean that the whole public can access local public transport. I am particularly proud of those things, and I was on the case for getting a lift at East Putney station, and I very much hope that my successor will do the same.

I tirelessly campaigned on serious issues such as youth crime and policing. In fact, my very first Westminster Hall debate was on youth and youth crime, but I am sorry to say that things have not moved on as much as perhaps they should have done in the intervening 14 years, and this House still debates the very issues that I was debating as an incoming MP.

I want to reflect on the hugely important role that community groups and residents associations have played in my local community. Brilliant charities such as Regenerate, which works on the Alton estate in Roehampton, play an amazing role in inspiring young people to make more of their lives. There is the brilliant Putney Society—the ultimate residents association in Putney—and then, of course, there are incredible residents associations in Southfields, such as Southfields Grid, Southfields Triangle, and Sutherland Grove Conservation Area. All those organisations bring our community together and make it what it is, and I am so proud and delighted that I have been able to work with them for so many years.

I have had probably more roles than most in this House. I started my time in government in the Treasury team with the then MP for Tatton, George Osborne, carrying out an emergency Budget to ensure that this country’s finances did not go the way of Greece’s, and I have reflected on that as we have debated what a no-deal Brexit might mean for us. I quickly discovered as a Minister that I had the ability to make a difference way beyond even perhaps what people might have thought my brief was, so I got stuck into looking at the tolls on the Humber bridge, and I was delighted that I was able to get them reduced. I ended up with a beer temporarily named after me in that part of the country, and that meant a lot to me because I watched the Humber bridge open as I grew up. I was delighted to be able to make a change that meant that it can be a successful piece of infrastructure that joins two wonderful communities, rather than dividing them.

From there I moved on to the Department for Transport, where I had to make sure that transport enabled the 2012 Olympics and did not get in the way of them being the triumph they were. I worked with the then Mayor of London, who went on to do other things, including becoming Prime Minister. I am proud of that work, because hopefully we made the Olympics accessible to millions of people who did not have to worry about being suddenly stranded.

From there my journey took me to the Department for International Development, which often operates out of the sight of our country. I could not be more proud of the truly world-class team in the Department. We worked hand in hand with the Ministry of Defence on Ebola, and we did pioneering work to bring education to children caught up by the terrible crisis in Syria. We took a decision in DFID that we would do our level best to make sure those children grew up educated and able to read and write. So much of the Department’s work happens out of sight of the British public, but the British public should be rightly proud of that work, which stretches beyond that to girls’ education and responding to humanitarian emergencies such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. I am truly honoured to have had so much time in that Department.

After that, my final Cabinet role was perhaps my dream role: Secretary of State for Education and—perfect—Minister for Women and Equalities. I was the first LGBT woman in Cabinet and, of course, the first Secretary of State for Education to be educated at their local comprehensive school, and I am only too happy to have those two firsts and to have put something back into a school system that built me into being able to do anything with my life and to achieve what I have achieved.

It was brilliant to be able to work with the most inspiring teachers I could have ever hoped to meet. It is a fantastic profession, and I would say to anyone who is thinking about what to do to make a difference with their life that they should go into teaching, because that is where they can shape the future. It was a privilege to be able to work with people in that profession, and it is one of the reasons why I focused so much on their continued professional development.