Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to give my maiden speech. I will begin by giving my heartfelt thanks to the people of Ealing North for putting their trust in me, and I would like to thank one resident of Ealing North in particular: Mr Steve Pound.
Every morning in the run-up to the election, Steve and I would drive to a primary school to speak to parents outside the school gates. Those car journeys were filled with stories about Ealing North and jokes that were as funny as they were often unrepeatable. The warmth and affection the parents showed toward Steve was awesome and inspiring, and it was typical of people across Ealing North and beyond. It could be a little intimidating too, as he leaves very large boots to fill, but I drew some comfort on that front from Steve’s own maiden speech. Using characteristically direct language, he said of one his predecessors:
“I am somewhat tired of constantly being told how I compare to the right hon. Gentleman.”—[Official Report,
During the election Steve was unfailingly kind and generous when introducing me to people. He would tell them that I would be just as diligent an MP as he had been, but with more hair. I cannot guarantee my hairline after a few years in this place, but I know that nothing will recede about my determination to work tirelessly for the people of Ealing North.
It is the honour of my life to represent the place where I grew up. Before Christmas, I visited Perivale Brewery, on Horsenden Farm, just down from Horsenden Hill, where I used to fly my kite when I was a boy. Last year, I ran the Ealing half marathon, on behalf of the Ealing Churches Winter Night Shelter, through Pitshanger Park, where I used to collect conkers with my grandmother 30 years ago. Those places, and others along the River Brent, Northala Fields and many more besides make up Ealing North’s wonderful greenery. They offer a calmness to balance the pace of life in part of the greatest city in the world and, let us be honest, the stress of traffic on the A40. But Ealing North is defined not just by its physical highlights; it can also be described by the strength of its many overlapping communities.
Our part of London is home to communities from India, Pakistan, Poland, Ireland, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Armenia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, and many more besides. It is home to LGBT+ people building their lives and their families. It is home to people of all faiths who have invited me in, at St Mary’s, St Barnabas, St Stephen’s, Ealing Gurdwara, Shree Jalaram Mandir, the Greenford Central and Bilal Masjid mosques, the Ealing Liberal Synagogue, All Hallows, Holy Cross and many more besides. Our community organisations also bring people together, whether at the Royal British Legion Club or at the Wood End Residents’ Association’s legendary Christmas party. Members of the community look out for each other. Just last Saturday, volunteers were busy running the Ealing Foodbank next to my surgery at Greenford Methodist Church. Those volunteers deserve our deepest thanks and, as their MP, I will do everything I can to end the injustice in our society that makes their work vital.
I will work day in, day out, for the people of Ealing North. We need investment in public services so that our young people are safe from getting involved with or becoming the victims of crime. We need investment in new, high-quality council homes to make sure that everyone has a decent and secure place that they can afford.
I will stand up for a foreign policy that always avoids the rush to war. At my surgery on Saturday, a woman spoke to me through tears about her parents’ desperate situation as Iraqi refugees in Jordan. It was heartbreaking, and those in power should never forget that our country’s mistakes around the world cast a very long shadow.
I will fight for the health and social care system that we need, which is something that the people I represent so clearly and dearly want. It is also very personal for me. In the late 2000s, I was diagnosed with a rare, long-term neurological condition called myasthenia gravis. It causes muscle weakness, which made it difficult, or sometimes impossible, for me to do things like go running, speak at length or smile. But the NHS came to my rescue. My wonderful consultant and all his colleagues got me through a major operation and on to a painstakingly calibrated set of medications. I have been symptom-free since the early 2010s, and I will fight every day for our NHS with the strength that it has given me back. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
As the MP for Ealing North, I draw strength from local campaigners and their enormous determination to protect our NHS, and particularly local services that have been under threat. In 2015, the maternity unit at Ealing Hospital was closed. Since then, no babies have been born in hospital in Ealing. In 2016, the children’s A&E closed, too. Plans to close the main A&E were, in a triumph of public pressure, finally dropped after a seven-year fight, but across the London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust, waiting times in A&E last month were over four hours for 39% of patients.
Across the country, our beloved NHS is creaking, yet the promises made by the Government are, as the Health Foundation has said,
“simply not enough to address the fundamental challenges facing the NHS’.
The Government have also failed to offer the plan or funding needed to fix the crisis in social care.
We must win the battle for the NHS and the social care system that we need. That is what I will fight for on behalf of the people I represent, and I thank them again for the honour of allowing me to do so. They must know that I will never flinch from my determination to fight for a fairer future for Ealing North, for our country and for our world.