Below is the text of the speech made by Kieran Mullan, the Conservative MP for Crewe and Nantwich, in the House of Commons on 12 February 2020.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to make my maiden speech. I am conscious of the seriousness of the topic with which we are dealing today as I embark on the traditional features of a maiden speech, but we know that the positive community stories that I will be sharing are exactly what the terrorists seek to destroy, and what the Bill seeks to prevent them from destroying.
Let me begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, Laura Smith. Laura was vociferous in her advocacy, and, like me, has frontline experience of public services. Before becoming a politician, she was a primary school teacher and a private tutor. It is a good thing to have diverse backgrounds and experiences in this place.
Crewe and Nantwich is a true melting pot of northern Britain, and I could not possibly do all its diversity justice in this short speech. I represent a large number of villages and parishes including Haslington, Willaston, Wistaston, Rope, Hough, Basford, Shavington, Barthomley, Weston, Leighton and Wybunbury. Across the constituency can be seen a host of community activities that embed each of those places in my mind. Hough Village will always be best known to me as the home of a monthly charity bingo club set up by village resident Celia Brown, which has raised thousands of pounds over the years. I pay tribute to the amazing contribution that Celia and her family have made to charity fundraising. Willaston hosts the annual world worm-charming championship, which sees competitors travel from as far afield as New Zealand and Australia. I will ensure that the upcoming reform of the immigration system makes the necessary visas available to those who wish to compete in this important global competition.
We have a host of fantastic local sports teams, including Crewe and Nantwich rugby club, which I play for. There is no better way of keeping your feet firmly on the ground than running around on the rugby pitch on a Saturday with team-mates and an opposition who could not care less about my being an MP: the bruise on my cheek testifies to that. The second team that I play for has a two-part team motto, the first part of which is “Win or Lose”; the second part contains unparliamentary language which I cannot repeat in this place.
Inevitably, however, the constituency is best known for its two towns of Crewe and Nantwich. Nantwich is a true gem in the Cheshire tourism crown, attracting streams of visitors every year, whether it be to the regular farmers markets or the famous food festival, or just to enjoy a stroll around the cobbled pavements with a view of St Mary’s church and the beautiful floral displays of Nantwich In Bloom. It is home to Barony Park, which is championed by the Friends of Barony Park and their irrepressible cheerleader, Rachel Wright.
Crewe is a town with a proud history, and there can be no better example of the kind of town this Government have pledged to support. Everywhere you look, there are people fighting to make a difference: people such as David McDonald and Margaret Smith, who are working hard to improve Crewe as part of the Crewe Clean Team. When the Beechmere residential home burned down last year, the whole community rallied round.
However, Crewe faces a declining high street and an ongoing struggle to return once again to the high point of its enormous contribution to our national economy as home to Crewe Works, which at one point employed 20,000 people designing and building world-famous trains. The site’s famous 11-metre tall wall that had stood for more than a century was finally knocked down last year to make way for development. I grudgingly understand why that might have been the right decision, but it serves as a symbol of what we must get right for all of Crewe. Yes, let’s see progress—as we soon will with the arrival of HS2 and with the Towns Fund investment—but we must ensure that the reward is worth the cost, and losing the wall and the legacy it represented has been a blow for many local residents. Bombardier has allowed me to have a brick from that wall, and it has pride of place in my office to serve as a constant reminder to me of what has passed and what must come next. Why do things such as that wall matter to people? They matter because they help us to tell a story of our lives and our history.
Seven years ago, as a junior doctor, I had the privilege to look after Jan Krasnodebski, a Polish man of quiet dignity, who was admitted to hospital towards the end of his life. His family were deported from Poland to Russia during the war, then allowed by Stalin to join the British Army training camps in Persia. Jan eventually joined the Polish army cadet school in Palestine, and when the British mandate ended, he came to Britain. He went on to live a rich life, but he had no wife or children. We would sometimes talk in the evenings, and he told me of his worry that without children of his own, his life would not be as vividly remembered as it deserved to be. I know, as a gay man, that the question of whether I would have children and how I would be remembered sometimes crossed my mind at the time, so I felt an affinity with him.
We agreed that I would write the story of Jan’s life, so that he could share it with others and ensure that he would be remembered. For a week after I finished work, I sat with him as he quietly and studiously sketched it out for me. It was the story of two generations, his and his parents’, who lived in a world more precarious than most of us can imagine, and full of hardship but also of dignity. What we wrote together was read at his funeral following his death a couple of months after he left hospital. In preparing this speech, I revisited the story. In it, I think we can find some clues as to why, despite the hardship and upheaval that they faced, families such as Jan’s and their communities still lived contented lives. As I share Jan’s words now, they enter Hansard, so he can be sure that his story is preserved forever. Jan told me:
“You can have a happy fulfilled life as long as you do something that you think is important.”
When we get home from this place in the evenings, we climb into bed and all the pomp and ceremony and the expectations on us fall away, and we are no different to Jan in his hospital bed wanting to reflect on his life and feel that it had meaning. Our constituents are no different either. Listening to the maiden speeches of many new Members, I have been struck by how many have spoken about what is increasingly missing from people’s lives: that sense of how they fit in with this ever-changing complicated world we live in. People want meaning and a sense of where they belong. Too often, we forget that that comes in the form of expectations and obligations on us. Delivering on what we must give to others and what is expected of us helps to create our own sense of worth.
There are no simple solutions to this challenge of people struggling with their identity and place in the world. If you have a low-paid skilled job but every week you help to run a women’s refuge, you can feel important. On the other hand, you can have a high-paid, high-skilled job but get lost in the world of addiction, because what you earn has, on its own, given you no sense of meaning. You can live on a deprived housing estate surrounded by drug-dealing gangs but feel no temptation to join them, because your loving family is all the community you need. And you can hold enormous talent in your hands but not feel valued, because society has decided that grafting all day for a great wage is not as important or worthy as going to university.
Today we are talking about the evils of terrorism, but at the heart of any successful terrorist recruitment campaign are people who have lost that sense of meaning in their own lives, leaving them vulnerable to the simple narratives of victimhood and betrayal. We can build infrastructure and create jobs, but all of this sits in a vacuum if it is not part of a broader story of a nation and a community that people feel part of. Of course, I will always believe that it is our families—the very first community we are part of—that ensure we grow to become part of the wider world with confidence, ambition and a sense of right and wrong. People lacking that foundation need our help most of all.
Modern culture holds up as important the people whose stories are being told loudest, on radio and television, in newspapers and on Facebook and Instagram, and whether a story is being told by admirers or detractors, we are made to feel that it is volume that counts. That is something that modern terrorist groups understand very well. Let us make sure that our constituents feel their story is important, however quietly told it is. I finish by returning to Jan’s words. He reflected:
“Though I have written about some of the more memorable events in my life, I would say most of my enjoyment of life has been from the day to day involvement in smaller ways with the Polish community”.
Whether we are addressing terrorism, loneliness, addiction or family breakdown, it is with community, belonging and importance that we need to start if we really want to level up this country. Many people have forgotten that the community right outside their door—in community bingo clubs, world worm-charming championships, parks groups, litter-pick groups and rugby teams—is where they will find that fulfilment, belonging and a sense of importance. Let us work hard in this place to remind them of that, to ensure that our society is one in which no terrorist ideology will ever find a home.