Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Nadia Whittome, the Labour MP for Nottingham East, in the House of Commons on 20 January 2020.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and congratulations on your re-election.
The outgoing Father of the House told me to do my maiden speech quickly to get it out of the way. I wish that I had taken his advice, because I have now heard so many fantastic maiden speeches that the pressure is really on.
I want to give my heartfelt thanks to every person in Nottingham East who put me here and invested their trust in me, and to say “I will not let you down.” I am able to stand here today because of the hard work, solidarity, talent and dedication of the activists, friends, and family who gave so much to my campaign. Only one of us is the Member of Parliament, but I am representing a movement that is so much bigger than me.
Let me also pay tribute to Chris Leslie, who contributed to Gordon Brown’s Treasury team. He too was the so-called “Baby of the House” when he was first elected. Before him there was John Heppell, an excellent constituency MP.
It is the greatest honour of my life to represent Nottingham East and my home city, but I am also here to represent this burning planet, and the generation that will be left to foot the bill and save it from catastrophic climate change. We are a generation that is brave, collaborative and outward-looking. We are determined to fight for a future in which everyone can breathe clean air and live well. These are not the whims of youth, but a deadly serious response to an existential crisis and the moral bankruptcy of our economic system. It is possible only because of the generations of socialists on whose shoulders I am proud to stand.
Nottingham is a city of firsts. We were the first city to recognise misogyny as a hate crime, thanks largely to the work of Nottingham Women’s Centre, and under our Labour council we are on track to be the first carbon-neutral city by 2028. We are proud of our publicly owned Nottingham City Transport, which regularly wins the title of UK Bus Operator of the Year—and it is thanks to its wi-fi that I so often, although not always, got my college work in on time. We are home to grassroots projects, tackling knife crime by giving young people opportunities in, for instance, the legendary Marcellus Baz and Jawaid Khaliq boxing schools. We have also been put on the map by world-class creatives, from Shane Meadows shooting “This is England” in St Ann’s to Young T and Bugsey, who started out at the Community Recording Studio.
I come to this House as a workers’ representative, not for the pomp and splendour but for the people who elected me. The people of Nottingham East sent me here, so let me tell you what they are up against: 42% of children live in poverty, firefighters are using food banks and 8,000 families in our city are waiting for a council home. That is why I have pledged to take only a worker’s wage, so that I never forget where I am from or whose interests I represent. Of course MPs do an important job, but careworkers, like I was proud to be before I became an MP, also do an extremely important job. When careworkers, retail workers and NHS staff get their pay rise, I will take mine.
Historically, so much happens in this building that is designed to exclude and alienate working-class people: the old conventions, the antiquated language. As a working-class woman of colour, I am made to feel like I do not belong here unless I throw my community under a bus, but that is not what I am here to do. When I first saw the results of the exit poll last month, the first people I thought about were my friends who are one delayed universal credit payment away from homelessness, my neighbour who goes without hot meals so her children do not have to, and my friend’s teenage brother who ended up in prison for dealing weed when he had no other job opportunities, while those here on the Front Benches can use their drug experiences at university to build street cred.
The Queen’s Speech talks about investment, and rightly so, but we have heard enough empty promises that are worth less than the paper they are written on. Jobs without decent incomes, security and a future are creating the new poverty. The new poverty in Britain is people in work. These are the parents of the children going to bed hungry. They are the people who cannot wait five years for the next election to get rid of a Government who do not stand up for them. That is why I support all those fighting for dignity and pay here and now, including the Deliveroo riders in Nottingham, some of whom are going home at the end of the day having earned less than the minimum wage per hour, the Uber drivers who refuse to accept poverty wages, and the Nottingham College teachers organising against unfair contracts. These are the people who refuse to be divided by this Government. They show us how to win by uniting and fighting back together: black and white, British and migrants, the people the Prime Minister calls “bum boys” and “letterboxes”. This is why I will campaign for the rights of working-class people to defend themselves. When the Government threaten to further limit our right to organise and strike, which is already one of the most restrictive in Europe, we will fight back.
Our burning planet cannot wait another five years for us to urgently address the climate emergency. Any investment plan that does not have climate justice at its very core is a plan for disaster. Meanwhile, as the planet approaches breaking point, so called anti-terrorist programmes are used to criminalise those who defend it. My generation wants a future. We want a planet we can live on, and wages we can live on. We want opportunities that make life worth living, and let me tell you something: if you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep.