It is an incredible honour to speak in this debate and give my maiden speech. Schools and the health and nutrition of our children are of paramount importance. No parent should have to worry about where their child’s next meal might come from, so during this crisis it is right that the Government will step in to protect the most vulnerable in our society, just as they have done repeatedly throughout the pandemic. This is conservatism in action. Although these are testing times for the country and our communities, everyone, especially people in Rother Valley, will pull through stronger than ever before.
To many people, the name “Rother Valley” focuses the mind on our beautiful Rother Valley country park, but to me and all who live there it is a selection of beautiful small towns and villages, proudly situated in Yorkshire, that are wrapped up in a love for their country and their home. We have a diverse range of communities, from Bramley to Wickersley, Laughton-en-le-Morthen to Ulley, and we even have our own Wales. There is something for everyone, but it is our industrial heritage that is a great source of pride in Rother Valley.
Coal mining has played an important part in the development of our area, with some of the country’s most important mines situated at Maltby, Kiveton, Thurcroft and Treeton. Many areas of Rother Valley have a long history of mining, but in Whiston the mining of whitestone was recorded in the Domesday Book. However, our history boasts more than just our contribution to industry. There have been settlements at Dinnington since neolithic times, and at Anston since the palaeolithic period, and there are other ancient settlements at Aughton, Swallowsnest, Woodsetts and Todwick.
We have also had our share of historic houses at Thorpe Salvin, Hellaby, Aston and Firbeck, with the former owner of Firbeck Hall being a source of inspiration for the novel “Ivanhoe”. In more recent times, history was made at Rother Valley outside a coking plant in 1984, when the infamous battle of Orgreave took place. We have strong farming areas around Harthill and Hooton Levitt, not to mention the majestic beauty of Roche abbey, which fell foul of Henry VIII’s awful anti-Catholic measures.
It would be remiss of me to give my maiden speech without acknowledging that I would not be standing in the House today were it not for the love and unwavering support of my family and friends: my parents, Theresa and James, who taught me from an early age that it is not where you have come from but where you are going in life that matters; my brother, Gregory, for helping to inspire me to go into politics; my daughter, Persephone, who was an unwitting campaigner during the election; and, of course, my wife, Natalie, to whom I owe this victory and all other successes.
My predecessor, Kevin Barron, formerly “Red Kev” and more recently Sir Kevin, was first elected four years before I was born, and although we would disagree on many things, his love for our area and his championing of anti-smoking measures are to be much applauded. One thing that surely separates me from my predecessors is the collieries. Whereas all of them had close ties to the mining community, either working in the collieries or for those who did, my ties are more with the steel community, which is also key to our local prosperity. Times have changed, and as they have done so, so have the people of Rother Valley. We look to a better, brighter future for our children and our children’s children.
Nevertheless, some things do remain constant, and that is what I espouse. The traditions of the Conservative party—hard work, law and order, family values and Christian morals—are timeless, classless and ageless. Those are the values of Rother Valley and they are ones that inspire me. Those are the common values that bind this great nation together. Love your family, love your friends, love your country, love your Queen and love your God, and you cannot go wrong. That is the contract of those who have gone before us and those who will go after us. These are the values that have spread prosperity, wealth and hope to billions across the globe. Britain, this small island nation, has a great history, and through our values and ideals it has changed the world for the better. It is these universal values that will continue to improve the world.
Rother Valley is not a huge place, but I know that each and every constituent can and will change the world for the better. We have done so before and we will do so again. You will never find a more industrious, hard-working, family-loving, patriotic people than those across Rother Valley. We are rightly proud of our history, heritage and culture. We are not a people to tear things down; we would rather raise them up. It is these attitudes that have driven the wealth of South Yorkshire and, ultimately, the wealth of this great nation.
In this House, we often hear the places that turned blue for the first time being referred to as “left behind”, but I can tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the men and women of Rother Valley do not feel left behind. Instead, they feel empowered. Rather than being told what their lives are going to be like or should be like, we have chosen a different path, one where we will no longer be taken for granted, and where our voices and our votes do matter. We do matter and last December we spoke with one voice. Just like outside Jericho in the days of old, we blew the horn of hope and the red wall came tumbling down. Some voters lent me their vote for the first time. I say to them, “I will not let you down. I will listen. We may have disagreements and different opinions, but the first and foremost job of a Member of this House is to listen and that is what I will do.”
No more will people in Rother Valley be neglected and forgotten. As I look upon this House, whose very walls were crafted from the fine stone of Anston in Rother Valley, I am mindful of the words of that great barbarian King Gelimer as he was paraded in chains through Constantinople by Justinian’s general, Belisarius, following the great liberation of Carthage: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”. For what matters in this House is not just the pomp and splendour, although these traditions are incredibly important, but the people we represent, the beating heart of our nation who put us here and whose very presence we honour by being here. Come what may, I will always be true to the people of Rother Valley, as I know they will always be true to Britain.