Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Beth Winter, the Labour MP for Cynon Valley, in the House of Commons on 20 January 2020.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me, as the newly elected Member of Parliament for Cynon Valley, the opportunity to make my maiden speech today.
Cynon Valley is an old south Wales mining community with a history of radical, progressive, socialist politics, having had MPs such as Henry Richard, a campaigner for peace and against slavery, and Keir Hardie, a founder of the Labour party who campaigned for votes for women and for a socialist society. My predecessor, Ann Clwyd, like me, followed in that tradition. Ann’s book “Rebel with a Cause” is very much a portrait of a woman politician who kept to her principles, whether you agreed with her or not. She was sacked twice from the shadow Cabinet, once for opposing further spending on nuclear weapons, and again in 1995 for observing, without the Speaker’s permission, the Turkish attacks on the Kurds. She is known for her internationalism, and for her campaigning on issues of human rights.
Ann will also be famously remembered for helping to save the last deep pit in Cynon Valley by going down the mine to take part in the miners’ sit-in. The following year, Tower colliery was taken over by the miners, and was run successfully for many years. It too has now closed. Approval has recently been given for the opening of a zip wire park on the site of the old colliery, which is positive.
Ann is, like myself, a Welsh speaker—although, Ann, if you are listening to this, mae’ch Cymraeg chi llawer yn well na Nghymraeg i: her Welsh is far better than mine! In 1991, she had the honour of being admitted to the Gorsedd of Bards at the National Eisteddfod, and in 2004 she was made a Privy Counsellor.
Cynon Valley is an area of great natural beauty, with its mountains, its wide valley floor, its rivers and its trees. It is known as the queen of the valleys, much to the irritation of some of our neighbours. It has so many good attributes, such as its parks, leisure facilities and strong communities. I was born in the valley and still live there with my family, so I am very much a part of the community, and Cynon Valley is very much a part of me.
We have pride in our history, and 1984, when Ann first entered Parliament, is a year that is well remembered in Cynon. It was the year of the miners’ strike. We saw a great change during and following those Thatcher years, and for the last four decades the area has suffered the consequences of deindustrialisation. Sadly, that left us with an economy with relatively high unemployment, low wages, part-time working and zero-hours contracts. In the last 10 years, communities like Cynon Valley have borne the brunt of Tory austerity: we know that such policies hit the poorest the hardest. Austerity has led to my local authority, Rhondda Cynon Taff, losing £90 million of funding in the last 10 years. That means not just a squeeze on public services but job losses—all of which has had a knock-on effect on local businesses, and on the quality of people’s lives.
On top of that, we have the cruel effects of benefit cuts and changes, notably universal credit and the bedroom tax. It is a disgrace that in this day and age people in Britain have to use food banks. At the same time as poorer communities suffer from the effects of austerity, the rich have grown richer, with the gap between rich and poor continuing to grow. That cannot be right.
I look around me in this House and I see wealth and privilege, with people making decisions that affect my constituents when they have no idea about the pattern of our daily lives. It is a world away from my home and my community, and I must admit that I struggle with it. While I am here worrying about getting the parliamentary rules and procedures right, there are people in my constituency worrying about how to pay the rent, feed the children and heat their homes. There is a disconnect between the arcane procedures of Parliament and the priorities of my constituents. This needs to change.
I have to remind myself why I stood for Parliament. I stood for Parliament because I want to see society transformed. I have always sought to combat inequality and injustice, taking a grassroots, bottom-up approach that empowers and gives voice to local people and communities, by doing community development work, working with homeless people, volunteering in a food bank and researching the effects of social exclusion on older people for my doctorate. I want a society that puts people before profits, a society that is fair, equal and just and that gives hope, where my parents can grow old with dignity and care, and where my children can look forward to a life free from wars and poverty, and free from the threat to our climate and our planet.
In spite of all the difficulties and problems, we are fighting back. We have a community and people second to none in Cynon Valley, and I am so honoured to have the opportunity to represent them here. I had tremendous support from local people during my election campaign and I want to thank them all, with a special word of thanks for Jean Fitzgerald, who sadly died suddenly earlier this month. She had been a great support to Ann over many years and became a good friend to me. Local people have shown great resilience and determination over the years, working to defend local services, and we have a forward-looking Labour local authority, which despite austerity policies has fought to protect frontline services and which is engaged in the delivery of several significant infrastructure projects, proactively working to bring new jobs to the area.
Devolution has given Wales opportunities to do things differently, including our commitment to developing a social partnership approach putting trade unions and the fair work agenda right at the heart of the Welsh Government’s programme to ensure greater equality for Welsh workers, as well as the Welsh Government’s commitment to developing a foundational economy, which in parts of Wales is the economy. But to maintain and develop our plans, we need adequate funding from Westminster. In fact, we are getting less money now than we were 10 years ago and there are grave concerns about the impact that Brexit will have on our economy. We need assurance that the proposed shared prosperity fund to replace EU funding delivers “not a penny less, not a power lost” in Wales.
We in Wales have the potential to take a lead to change things for the better, as long as we build on our campaigning traditions and our radical and socialist heritage. Campaigning is in my blood, from marching as a child in Cynon Valley in support of the miners in 1984 to marching against austerity and climate change with my family and organising against the casualisation of the workforce as a trade union officer. I am determined to contribute to this continued fightback against the inequalities in our society, and to work even harder for a fair distribution of wealth, for a green industrial revolution creating jobs for the future, and for our young people to have opportunities to reach their full potential. I will end with a quote from one of my predecessors, Keir Hardie, who said:
“We can do with state interference if the homes of the people can be improved or work be given to the unemployed, or bread to the hungry or hope to the uncared for poor…State interference has assisted wealth, monopoly and privilege long enough”.