Town of Culture Award

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:49 pm on 23rd January 2019.

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage) 5:49 pm, 23rd January 2019

There is not a lot of time left, but I remind the Minister that he will not need long to say, “Yes,” in response to this debate. I endorse the proposal by my right hon. Friend David Hanson and other hon. Friends. I congratulate the Labour Towns group on turning up en masse and coming up with such compelling arguments, as well as the other hon. Members who spoke. My right hon. Friend rightly said that there was an opportunity to do something on a UK basis and involve the devolved Administrations; I thought his proposals were very good. He also took some very good interventions, including those of my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) and for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), who are no longer in their places, and my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper. He mentioned Richard II and Flint castle; as he may know, my brother Patrick is an actor who once played a small part in promoting Flint indirectly—he starred in “Richard II” at the Globe theatre.

My hon. Friend Mr Dhesi spoke passionately about his constituency, putting to bed the reputation that it was perhaps unfairly given by John Betjeman. My hon. Friend quite rightly said that arts funding tends to be higher in cities than in towns—we really need to look at how to redistribute resources much more effectively through the arts budget.

It is always very comforting when Jim Shannon speaks in a debate—when he turns up, we know that things are normal in the world. He made his constituency sound like the garden of Eden, although I remind him that that is where original sin was invented. I look forward to playing crazy golf with him in Strangford some day.

My hon. Friend Helen Goodman referred to Richard III—another king who met a dodgy end. I look forward to a long weekend in Bishop Auckland, which sounds like a wonderful place.

In reply to my hon. Friend Susan Elan Jones, may I take the opportunity to mention Rhosllanerchrugog? She took an intervention from my hon. Friend Nick Smith, who is no longer in his place. My mother was born in his constituency—in Nantyglo, another town that would really benefit from the sort of initiative we are debating.

As ever, my hon. Friend Liz McInnes spoke passionately about her community. So did my hon. Friend Tracy Brabin, who made the important remark: “If you don’t see it, you can’t be it.” I know that her constituency work is very much based on that idea. She took an intervention by my hon. Friend Ruth George, who mentioned Buxton and the importance of cultural and artistic activities to health and wellbeing.

My hon. Friend Chris Ruane spoke passionately about Rhyl. I remind him of Cerys Matthews’s song “International Velvet”, in which she sang, “Darganfyddais gwir baradwys Rhyl”—“I discovered true paradise in Rhyl.” My hon. Friend reminded us to “tap into the passion”, and his speech certainly did that.

My hon. Friend Nic Dakin spoke brilliantly, rightly pointing out that the judging panel will have a difficult job. He also pointed out Scunthorpe’s steel heritage, which he knows that I share in my background.

My hon. Friend Luke Pollard mentioned clotted cream and the question whether the jam or the cream should come first. What I say to the Minister is that we do not mind which it is—as long as it is not “jam tomorrow.”

My hon. Friend Graham P. Jones spoke, and my hon. Friend Melanie Onn spoke brilliantly about the welcome investment in the arts in her community. My right hon. Friend Caroline Flint promoted her constituency, as ever, and gave us a remarkable list of people from it who have risen to prominence—they have a very prominent MP as well. Gavin Newlands spoke for the Scottish National party.

I represent a city seat, but I was born and brought up in Cwmbran, a new town. Every time I drive back to see my 89-year-old mother, a song comes into my head: Simon and Garfunkel’s “My Little Town”. One of the lyrics is:

“And after it rains there’s a rainbow, and all of the colors are black.

It’s not that the colors aren’t there—it’s just imagination they lack.”

If we have the imagination and the investment, we can do wonderful things. We all know what has happened to our towns through the evisceration of local government funding, the removal of services from our high streets and the loss of banks, libraries and museums. Those institutions are very important. Let us have a renaissance in our towns, let us have a town of culture, and let us hear the Minister say yes.