Daniel Zeichner – 2015 Maiden Speech to the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Daniel Zeichner, the Labour MP for Cambridge, in the House of Commons on 8 June 2015.

It is a pleasure to follow that inspiring speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft). It is also a pleasure to hear so many initial contributions from so many fine hon. Members.

I speak today as the new Member for Cambridge, and let me start by saying a few words about my predecessors. Dr Julian Huppert is a knowledgeable scientist and a committed defender of civil liberties, who argued hard in this House and well in the Select Committee on Home Affairs, where he won many friends. He has been a passionate advocate for cycling and for environmentalism, and he is extremely well regarded in the constituency, having fought hard to improve the funding situation for our local schools and to raise the status of mental health. But my predecessors in Cambridge set a very high bar. Some here will remember David Howarth, another Liberal Democrat MP who was also very well regarded in this House. Before that, we had my dear friend Anne Campbell, a Labour MP from 1992 to 2005, who has been a source of huge support and great wisdom for me.

I suspect that not every Member gets elected to this House at their first attempt. For some it will take two attempts, whereas for others it takes three or four. I am on my fifth, but I am here at last. I suspect that those who have followed a similar course may well have reflected early in their career on the merits of enthusiasm and youth. As one’s career progresses, one recognises the benefits of experience and perhaps a little wisdom—one hopes.

I also suspect that many Members are full of enthusiasm and optimism when they are first selected—I was first selected to fight a rural seat in Norfolk—and find themselves writing their maiden speech. When I reflect on that speech from 20 years ago, I see that quite a lot of it is still valid today: I see a Conservative Government, a Labour Opposition and much talk of Europe. The biggest thing that has changed for me has been moving back to the fine city of Cambridge 10 years ago—it has been the biggest change in my life. What I have seen in Cambridge over those years is a city on the cusp of a technological revolution; the number of jobs in the knowledge-intensive sector is phenomenal. For me, there is the link with today’s discussion about Scotland and devolution, because what our hugely successful companies such as ARM and the Babraham Institute need are more flexibilities, and people in Scotland are arguing for the same. As someone who has argued for many years for devolution to the English regions, I think we need to sort these issues out in a sensible way, which is why I did support the idea of a constitutional convention, as proposed by the Labour party at the last election.

Cambridge is also, like so many other places, a tale of two cities; the challenges our city faces are partly the challenges of success, but we also have divisions. Our businesses need an answer to the traffic problems and the appalling housing crisis we have. A terraced house in Cambridge costs £450,000 and our average rents are ​double those in England for most homes. Our housing benefit bill has doubled in the past five years—why? It is because 12,000 people in the prosperous city of Cambridge are earning below the living wage—it is not always the way we imagine it. We need different solutions in different places.

I am glad to say that Cambridge now has a Labour council and it is trying to tackle those issues, but it is hard to do. The biggest issue is affordable housing, and I see fellow hon. Members here who have been involved in these debates with me over many years. The biggest problem we have is that although we have a valuable housing stock, we are not allowed to borrow against it. The city deal is welcome, but it is a drop in the ocean compared with what we really need to turn Cambridge into the economic driver that could so help our economy, right across the UK.

When we look at those issues, we ask: why can we not borrow? Some 18 months ago, there was a chink of light from the Treasury, when people began to talk about “tax increment financing”—I apologise for the jargon—or the possibility of borrowing against that value. What happened? The usual forces of conservatism in the Treasury won out yet again, as has happened to Governments of both complexions. I say to both Front-Bench teams: we need to think imaginatively if we are to solve these huge challenges facing not only cities such as Cambridge, but our whole country and our other nations as well.

Creating the kind of tolerant, diverse city that people in a place such as Cambridge want will mean balancing a range of complicated and difficult issues, and recognising that even within a city such as Cambridge there are many different Cambridges. Cambridge has not only the university we all know and love so much, but three other universities: Anglia Ruskin University, which is doing so well; the University of the Third Age; and the Open University—my mother was pleased to be one of the first people to go to it back in the ‘60s. I recall one moment earlier this year when Cambridge United played Manchester United in a rather unequal battle—perhaps—in the FA cup and we held those mighty people to a goalless draw at the Abbey stadium. That was a brief moment when people saw that other Cambridge. I suggest that in our communities right across the country there are other cities and other places, and we need to understand all of them.

I stand before you today as a Labour MP for Cambridge who will represent the buccaneering investors and high-tech gurus of our city who will create wealth. But most of all, I will be standing up and arguing for our public sector workers, who so often are forgotten, but without whom the rest of the city cannot do its job. I am proud to represent Cambridge and look forward to standing up for the city in the years ahead.