It is an immense honour to be elected as the Member of Parliament for Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale. I thank my brilliant campaign team and my wife and children for sticking with me after losing six elections, to finally see me delivered as a Member of Parliament. A local newspaper once dubbed me “the perennial loser”, much to the amusement of my campaign team, my friends and my family. It is a huge relief for me, and hopefully for them, to have lost that tag at last.
Before I talk about my remarkable constituency, I want to mention the most wonderful person in my life: my mother. At the age of three, I was abandoned by my father, forcing my mother to move with me to a council estate in Thornhill Lees in Dewsbury, and then the Wilton estate in Batley. At first, it was a real struggle for my mother to raise a child as a lone parent while working shifts at Batley hospital and eventually at the newly opened Dewsbury hospital. There are significant challenges facing any single mother when raising a child, let alone one as difficult as me. Despite the heavy burdens, my mother forged a career, going on to become senior sister at the Dewsbury casualty department.
My mother made monumental sacrifices to provide for me and to see that I wanted for nothing. As she rose through the nursing profession, we began to enjoy some of the good things in life. I was even fortunate enough to go on caravan holidays and day trips to fantastic places like Scarborough and Skegness, leaving me with fond, albeit slightly scarring, memories of being ill after staying in the sun too long and overindulging in candy floss—although you can never have too much candy floss. Witnessing the dedication, hard work and sacrifice of my mother has ensured that I take nothing for granted. She showed me the value of hard work and compassion, which she put into action every day on the hospital ward.
She showed me the value of hard work and compassion, which she put into action every single day on the hospital wards. My mother instilled in me the values that I have now and which I am putting into action as the Member of Parliament for Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale. Ultimately, she demonstrated that even in the most difficult circumstances you can progress to where you want to be in this country. If it was not for my mother, I would not be here today. She is my hero.
If this were a normal maiden speech, made during normal times, I would be elaborating on my constituency’s rich history and its landmarks, including the towering figure of the Emley Moor mast, which, by the way, is taller than the Shard and the Eiffel Tower and twice as tall as Blackpool Tower in the constituency of my hon. Friend Scott Benton. I would have been able to turn to him and say, “ Mine is truly bigger than yours.”
However, these are not normal times. Coronavirus has meant that we have all had to adapt to a new way of doing things. I would have liked my mother to be here today, the rest of my family and my amazing team as well, but this inconvenience pales in comparison to the enormous sacrifices that all our constituents have been asked to make to keep the nation safe and the country ticking. It has been a truly heroic effort.
Growing up, I had a number of heroes who I looked up to. One of them was Leeds United centre back, Lucas Radebe. Lucas had a tough upbringing, growing up under the despicable Apartheid in South Africa, surrounded by violence and racism, but he battled against the odds to reach the top, inspiring young footballers to overcome the barriers in front of them. Lucas Radebe was, and still is, my hero.
After our experience with coronavirus, the definition of “hero” has grown. We have seen heroes emerge all over the country. Alongside our NHS and emergency staff, there are the people who have kept us fed, cared for us, operated our public transport and those who have ensured we can still access the goods and services we rely on. I would like to pay tribute to some of those heroes in my constituency, people who have made great sacrifices and gone above and beyond throughout this emergency. I think of groups such as Elim church, the Moonlight Trust, the Zakaria Education Centre, Darul-Ilm mosque, Shelley community association and many more who have been working tirelessly for the benefit of others.
Across my constituency, there have been countless individuals carrying out potentially unnoticed acts of kindness to help out their neighbours. These people are heroes. I have been proud to work alongside some of these wonderful volunteers and community groups who continue to help the vulnerable through this difficult time. There are those I have not yet had the privilege of working alongside, but I am immensely grateful and thankful for all they have done.
I also pay tribute to my predecessor, Paula Sherriff, who worked hard for her constituents and campaigned tirelessly on issues, including women’s right. I understand that Paula is now facing her own heroic battle, and I send her my best wishes at this difficult time.
On the topic of housing and planning, I have often been called a nimby, among other things—[Laughter.] We won’t go into that—but I think it is unfair. I simply believe that we ought to protect our landscapes and take advantage of the scores of brownfield sites waiting to have life brought back to them. I have a proud record of working to protect our countryside from inappropriate developments on green belt and farmland, working closely with groups across my constituency—groups such as my own, Chidswell action group, Cumberworth Road action group in Skelmanthorpe, Save Mirfield and Upper Dearne Valley Environmental Trust, among others. They do great work standing up for their communities and I look forward to working closely with them in the future.
I finish by thanking the people of Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale for giving me this opportunity. I will not let them down.