Diolch yn fawr, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Rising to give my maiden speech, I am reminded of the quip that there is never a more dangerous moment to speak than before the audience has had their dinner; but whoever first wrote that line clearly never had my teenage experience—of singing in a local workman’s club for an audience who were waiting for the bingo to start. I thank my nan for giving me that particular opportunity, again and again, but at least it means I have absolutely nothing to fear from those on the Benches opposite. They may deplore and decry my socialism, but they are armed with neither heavy-duty black marker pens nor the impatience of a valleys grandmother.
There can be no greater honour in life than to represent the place closest to your heart. I am Ponty born and bred. I went to my local comprehensive school in Tonyrefail. My dad and both granddads were miners. Pontypridd runs through my veins as strongly and truly as the Rivers Taff and Rhondda run through our valley.
Pontypridd, my home, is also the home of local legends—not just my mam, but the legends of Tom Jones and Wales’s most feared and capped prop-forward, Gethin Jenkins. Whilst I was tempted to construct this speech around the lyrics of Sir Tom, I did not have the same temptation when it came to Geth’s on-field banter. That would generally consist of a look so menacing that it could make the very scoreboard twitch.
To add to that list of local legends is my predecessor, Owen Smith. Owen is a tough act to follow in every sense. I know that his wit and wisdom, his rhetoric and his radicalism will be missed in this place, just as they will be welcomed back at home. His work here, particularly campaigning on surgical mesh implants, will change the lives of women not just in this country, but around the world, as the full scale of that scandal is still being uncovered. That tenacious, groundbreaking campaign work gave a glimpse of what Owen could and should have achieved in government. Owen blazed a trail—as he always does. In his nine years in Parliament he lived a political life worthy of three decades. No wonder his first career ambition was to be zipping around the green pitch at Ponty’s Sardis Road, not warming these green Benches. I know that colleagues here will wish him luck with his return to the green, green grass of home.
As with Owen and his predecessor, Kim Howells, music, rugby and politics represented the fundamentals of life growing up in Pontypridd. It is difficult to imagine it any other way in a constituency that gave the world the Welsh national anthem and “Cwm Rhondda”. The Pontypridd front row were not just three rugby players; they were, for us, the eighth wonder of the world.
With iron and coal and industry comes the politics—politics rooted in people, fairness and radicalism. And whilst the iron and the coal may have gone, the people have not, and nor have the radicalism and the ambition for fairness and equality. I have no doubts whatsoever that it is my duty to hold the red banner high in this place, on behalf of my constituents; to tell their stories, and to tell the difficult truths to those on my own Front Bench as well as the one opposite. A town built on iron and steel does not elect shrinking violets, and I will use my voice to elevate the lived experiences of my constituents so that they can never, ever be ignored.
I also have no doubt that my task, and that of all my Labour colleagues, has become more difficult following the election result in December. One of the jewels in the Ponty crown is the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, which is a fantastic employer of nearly 1,000 people. But it is an irony not lost on me, or my constituents, that despite the fact that we physically make all the country’s money, we see precious little of it in return in the shape of Government investment. The High Speed 2 maps proudly produced by this Government show billions of pounds worth of red and blue streaks across the map of England, but not so much as a slither in Wales. There is no investment in rail electrification, or in the transformational tidal lagoon technology being developed in south Wales. Wales can, and will, lead the way on ingenuity, the economy and the environment, but the Government must stop holding us back.
One very small word has a huge world of meaning in south Wales, and that is the sort of economy and environment we want and deserve: tidy—a tidy economy, and a tidy environment. To achieve means a commitment to the kind of green industrial revolution being promoted by the Labour party, not the wishy-washy promises of the UK Government. It means investment in future technologies, and it means working with the Welsh Labour Government on their groundbreaking environmental legislation, and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. From Pontypridd to Perth the climate crisis that we are facing impacts on us all, and I will use my voice in this place to keep the climate emergency at the forefront. I come from a seat that helped power the last industrial revolution, and for the sake of my generation, and the one to follow, I want Pontypridd to be at the forefront of the next one.
I will close by saying that the bridge that symbolises the town of Pontypridd will be my inspiration for my work in Parliament. It was the longest single span bridge in Britain when it was opened in 1756, and it is not just the architectural ingenuity that inspires me, but the fact that it represented William Edwards’s fourth attempt at a bridge to cross the Taff. He did not let the floods, collapses and miscalculations deter him; he kept thinking, he kept on trying, and he kept building. That is how I intend to carry forward this job of representing the people of Pontypridd, which is the greatest honour of my life. I will make mistakes, I will learn from them, and I will keep going. With the support of my family and my constituents, I will be the bridge from Pontypridd to Westminster.