James Frith – 2017 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by James Frith, the Labour MP for Bury North, in the House of Commons on 19 July 2017.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is an absolute pleasure to be here making my maiden speech during this debate on tuition fees, and I give thanks to the people of Bury, Tottington and Ramsbottom for the fact that I am standing here in the first place. Bury North is an amazing place, and I have 100 years of history there, from my late great-grandfather, a vicar in Bury, to me, his great-grandson, the new MP. For me and my wife, Nikki, and our three children—with a fourth on the way—it is our family’s home town.

Growing up, public service was a staple of my home life. My mum was a leaving-care worker and magistrate with a passion for music. Dad was a Church of England minister with a love of cricket and politics. And so it goes that my passions are politics and music. These were supercharged within me when, 20 years ago, I witnessed Romania and South Africa newly emerging as political states, recovering from a ruthless dictator and the abhorrence of apartheid respectively.

I then moved to the music capital of the world—Manchester—to study. There, I formed an indie rock and roll band, in which I was the singer for 12 years. I joined the Labour party and married a Bury woman. The rest is history. I never did get that elusive record deal, though few people need to know me for long before learning that I did in fact play Glastonbury festival, long before it became the thing to do. [Laughter.] I’d have killed for his crowds, though.

During the election—the competition, as my son, Henry, called it—my eldest daughter, Jemima, asked me, “What is an MP, Daddy?” I tried to explain, saying, “If someone wants help, might be in trouble, wants something changing, needs to talk to someone or maybe just has a really good idea, they might go and see their MP.” Jemima looked at me and said, “Well, Daddy, you’re my MP already.”

It is customary to pay tribute to one’s predecessor. David Nuttall was graceful in his victory last time, as he was in his defeat this time. For all our considerable political differences, I always found him to be an affable man. I wish him and his wife the very best for the future.

Bury North is a fantastic place to live. It is book-ended by two traditional market towns, and the world-famous Bury market is home to the new superfood, Bury black pudding. There is also a magnificent market in Ramsbottom, from where, one winter morning, my wife started her own business. My constituency stretches from the foothills of the Lancashire Pennines in the north—it is overlooked by Peel Tower atop Holcombe Hill—to Gigg Lane, home of the mighty Shakers, Bury FC, in the south. Proudly, we are home to the Lancashire Fusiliers and veterans. They are legendary for being awarded six Victoria Crosses before breakfast at the battle of Gallipoli in 1915—a battle in which one Clement Attlee also fought.

Local charities including SuperJosh, Annabelle’s Challenge and Bury hospice are an inspiration. Whether attending a community event at the Jinnah Centre, relaxing around the boundary at Greenmount cricket club, enjoying our countryside or a curry at the Jewel in the Crown, or taking the East Lancashire railway up to ​Ramsbottom, all human life and experience is there. Local employers set high standards, drawing on the strengths of our town and its heritage. They include the award-winning Eagle and Child pub and Pennine Communications. Stories of this fine place are expertly retold by the local paper, the Bury Times. My new constituency office will be hosted in the same building as the Freedom church, which welcomes everyone to its door with “it’s great to see you”—a simple message that sums Bury up.

But, Mr Speaker—sorry; Madam Deputy Speaker—Bury has had seven years of bad luck, with £120 million cut to services, local government and our economy. Our walk-in centre is used by thousands of patients a month. They rely on it not as Labour or Conservative supporters but as patients, so why is it threatened with closure? The reality of austerity is being lived through in hospital wards, or by carers and the underpaid, overworked parents who know differently. Mental health services are disappearing. We do not have enough nurses because the Government’s own target is 20,000 short. Children with special educational needs are no longer supported. Social care has been reduced to minutes per day. Last year, 6,000 food parcels were handed out in Bury alone. A veteran in Bury had his benefits sanctioned for selling poppies. There is no access to finance for many of our growing businesses without people risking the family home. In this once weathervane seat many feel, at best, that we have stood still as a country; many more feel stood on.

As my daughter might ask, so we say from this House: what are we for? What do we do? For Bury North, I am here to help to determine what comes next. That is the point of being here: the power to intervene, to disrupt and to change; the authority to speak out and to help manage. That is the point, not to manage decline or sponsor disadvantage. But austerity continues at pace. Austerity is not “living within our means”; austerity is lifeless economics. We must be as much about humanity as about eventually balancing the books. You grow by investing. You nurture talent and empower people. A business would not seek to grow by taking its people off the road, and nor should a country.

I believe that politics is a force for good and for hope, not an excuse for despair. My belief in Labour values is why I believe we need a fairer, more diverse economy. We need an economy that is more innovative and entrepreneurial and that takes risks and gives rewards. We need an economy with work-life balance, an economy that affirms the fact that both public and private sectors combine to create wealth. From nursery to university, these ambitions should feature, too. We need proper investment paid for by a broader economy. We should be empowered by a curriculum that prepares our young people for a successful, modern working life, whether via an apprenticeship or a degree, or if they are starting up for themselves, not the ever-narrowing curriculum it has become.

Too often, it is our young people who have been the first to face the political calculation of this place. With tuition fees as they are, they face a future saddled with debt, and rising interest rates on that debt. We must move to a higher-skilled economic ground. We must harness our assets: creativity, intuition, emotion, empathy and intelligence. In doing so, we must outbid the threat to jobs and livelihoods that automation poses for so many. We need a collaboration of all levels of education, ​research development, trade unions, business and new national industry, pulled together by the Government, jumpstarting the plan.

In closing, Mr Speaker—sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker; you will have marked me out already. On Brexit, please, a less bombastic approach and more grace; a Brexit that works for Bury is what I have said. I am not religious about Brexit—few people are—but away from this bubble, Brexit for many was a chance to stop the show, smash the glass and pull the leave cord, and it struck a chord. For the first time, many who have not been listened to have now been heard, but they did not vote to be worse off or poorer.

I am proud that in Bury North people voted to trust Labour with public services, and to trust Labour to ensure that industries are made anew and that our workers are protected. My mission is to improve the lives and the living of everyone I represent in Bury North, whether they voted for me or not.

I am not here to trade insult but to advance our argument. Politics—the great intervener, the enabler, the change we want to see, the kicking out and the putting in—may too often be a wasted force, but it is a force for good. After a historic result in Bury North, I now join my colleagues in what might feel to this musician like a difficult second album. I will be working with my friends and colleagues to advance our argument and win it with inspiration, assurance and vision. Desmond Tutu once said “never underestimate man’s capacity to do wrong. But never underestimate man’s capacity for good also.” The same is true of our estimation of politics, and the responsibility on us to ensure that our politics’ capacity for good begins in this place—restoring faith in politics and professing to a new generation that its power is the best force for good and for change that we have for the many, not the few.