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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 16th March 2020.

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Photo of Nicholas Fletcher Nicholas Fletcher Conservative, Don Valley 5:30 pm, 16th March 2020

Thank you for letting me speak, Madam Deputy Speaker. A maiden speech and no interruptions—oh, I do wish I could have one at home! I would like to start by telling you a story. It starts a little sombre, but stay with me, because it does brighten up. If you’re sitting comfortably, I will begin.

I am going to tell you the story of a 10-year-old called Tommy. Tommy goes to school every day, like most other kids. He sits in his class with some other 10-year-olds. He doesn’t like it too much, but it’s okay. Tommy’s handwriting is pretty good—it is better than mine—so a teacher somewhere in the last six years has done a good job. However, Tommy is in a special class now—not special good, but special because Tommy gets bored and messes about. He messes about more than most. Tommy knows he is in a special class, and although never directly told by the adults in his life, he pretty much knows he will get nowhere.

When asked, Tommy says he does not do much outside of school, so you press a little further and ask again, only to find out that Tommy smokes weed—not good for a 10-year-old, is it? He doesn’t really want to, but it impresses some of the young men who stand outside his school gate and around the shops waiting for kids like Tommy to come along.

So what does Tommy’s life look like at home? Well, let’s just say it is dysfunctional—no good role models here. The man who gave Tommy some cannabis is 22 and drives a car. Tommy thinks he is pretty cool. Tommy spends more time with this man than he does with anybody else. This is Tommy’s role model. After a year or two, Tommy starts running errands and carrying a bit of drugs. He likes to impress his role model. We all like to impress, don’t we?

Fast-forward a few years and Tommy is now 16, doing quite a bit of dealing—he is quite the young man on the street. People know Tommy, and he likes the attention. He starts carrying a knife. His mum tells him off because she’s seen it. He tells his mum to go away, but he doesn’t say, “Go away”—he uses the words that the adults in his life use. The police are watching Tommy. Everybody is watching Tommy. Tommy has a girlfriend. His girlfriend—a sweet little 16-year-old—starts taking a bit of drugs because Tommy does. She likes to impress. We all like to impress, don’t we?

I do not need to continue for you to know how this story ends—not much of a story, is it? It is not a good story, but guess what? This is what happens when we have the wrong role models and we try to impress the wrong people.

There is another story. There is another Tommy who is 10 and in a special class, and whose writing is better than mine, but when asked what he does after school, he tells you he plays football and he’s good at it. He is no longer a special kid for the wrong reason; he is special for the right ones. His teacher tells him that he is going to do great things. He has a great role model at football, who tells Tommy to go to the gym when he is not playing football, where there is another great role model. Tommy’s school organises a visit to the airport, to see a bomber called the Vulcan. Tommy enjoyed the trip to airport and wants to learn to take a plane apart and put it back together again. Now we have Boeing in Doncaster, and Tommy gets an apprenticeship. Tommy’s life is looking great. Isn’t that a better story?

It’s not just about Tommy. It’s about Rachel, Mia and Muhammad who work at Yorkshire Wildlife Park, Polypipe or the new hospital. It’s about having great role models. It’s about everyone raising their game. It’s about teaching kids that there is a right way and a wrong way, and that having dreams and goals are necessities in life, not luxuries.

It is about following what you believe in, like one of our many notable folk in Don Valley, William Bradford from Austerfield, who sailed on the Mayflower to follow his dream on a pilgrimage to the new world we now call America, some 400 years ago. It is about giving a town pride in itself. Can you imagine how the people of Don Valley felt when a castle was being built at Conisbrough in the 11th century? That was the last time we had some serious investment in Don Valley. It is around the same time that we last had a Conservative MP. Oh no—bear with me; we have never had a Conservative MP.

Can you imagine how the people of Doncaster will feel if and when a new hospital is built, when flood defences are put in place so their homes are not flooded every 10 years, and when a new rail link is built to Doncaster Sheffield airport, which will attract huge business and create thousands of jobs and homes? We need these big projects to raise the aspiration of our young, to raise the hopes of our families, and to let people know we care and that they are not the forgotten communities any more. But most of all we need to hold ourselves accountable, to take responsibility for our actions and become great role models—and that must start with me here. That costs nothing; well, I am from Yorkshire.

My predecessor and I differed on policy, but we did have one thing in common: she, too, cared for Don Valley. I know this as I heard many a kind word on the doorstep about Caroline Flint when I was campaigning, and that continued on my arrival here. “What seat are you?” you all asked. “Don Valley,” I replied. “Oh, that was Caroline’s. We liked her.” I said, “I know.” Caroline gave 22 years of her life to this place and the people of Don Valley, and on behalf of Don Valley I say thank you.

I know Caroline cared, and that is what I am going to do here: care by giving Tommy hope—hope of a better life—and this Budget will help do just that. With the doubling of flood defence spending, letting families keep more of their money, investing in infrastructure and new hospitals, and giving £8 million for football clubs, Tommy stands a chance. We are heading into some unknowns, and I appreciate that. However, as a businessman, I have read and listened to many gurus, but my favourite is the late Jim Rohn, who stated that in life, “it’s not the direction of the wind, it’s the set of the sail that counts”. So let us set our sail right, and let us get behind this Government and be positive about everything we say and do, and this includes dealing with the issue of the moment. By being the voice of reason, keeping calm, keeping to the facts and staying on course, we will come through this together.

Finally, I said in my acceptance speech that winning was nothing short of a miracle. I believe in miracles, and I believe in God. I know not everyone does and I know many see Christianity as a stumbling block to their way of life, but please remember it is my way of life. It is the reason I believe I am here—not to judge or condemn, but to listen, to help, to be kind, to forgive and forget. I therefore have two asks. First, will all the people here and back in my constituency forgive me when I get it wrong—and I will? But, secondly, and much more importantly, however long we are here, let us keep room for God in this place. If we do keep space for him in the hearts and minds of the people who believe, I know this country will continue to be the greatest place and continue to be a place that you and I are proud to call home. After all, I believe Christ is the greatest role model anyone can have.