Stephen Twigg – 1997 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by the new MP for Enfield Southgate, Stephen Twigg, in the House of Commons on 16th May 1997.

It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to make my maiden speech so early in the parliamentary Session, and I am delighted to be here as the first ever Labour Member of Parliament for the constituency of Enfield, Southgate. I hope to be the first in a long line of Labour Members of Parliament elected by the people of Enfield, Southgate, where I was born and brought up.

During my lifetime, there have been just two Members of Parliament for the constituency before me. Michael Portillo was elected in a by-election in 1984. Shortly after his election to Parliament, he visited Southgate school, where I was then a sixth former. Although our politics were miles apart, Michael Portillo impressed me then as an articulate, charismatic and candid politician. Since then, he has provided more than 12 years of professional service to the people of Enfield, Southgate. During the general election campaign, on our rare encounters, he was always courteous and charming, and on the night of the election count his dignity in defeat earned him widespread and well-deserved respect. I am sure that, if he chooses to do so, he will continue to play an important role in the public life of this country.

Mr. Portillo succeeded Sir Anthony Berry, who was tragically killed in the Brighton conference bombing in 1984. Sir Anthony Berry represented the people of Enfield, Southgate for more than 20 years in the House and is still remembered with great respect and affection by many of my constituents. In his maiden speech here in 1965, Sir Anthony warned of the dangers of the introduction of comprehensive education in Enfield. As a product of Southgate comprehensive school, I have to say that I think that many of his fears have proved to be unfounded.

Enfield, Southgate is a wonderful and diverse local constituency. We embrace both the busy, urban life of Palmers Green and the north circular road, and the rural tranquillity of Hadley Wood and the green belt. Much of my constituency is a collection of villages—Southgate Green, Oakwood, Grange Park and Winchmore Hill, which has been spared a drive-through McDonald’s because of the determined opposition of local people and the good sense of our local Labour-controlled council.

Southgate’s diversity is a great strength. It is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious community. Only this week, I had the privilege to lay the foundation stone for the new Hindu community centre of the Darji Mitra Mandal. There is a large Jewish community, as well as significant numbers of Christians, Muslims and Sikhs. It will be a privilege to represent them all.

During my election campaign, perhaps the biggest single issue on the doorstep was the future of the island of Cyprus. I warmly welcome the Government’s commitment in the Gracious Speech to seeking a just and lasting settlement in Cyprus and I look forward to giving my full and active support to those efforts.

Perhaps the most positive feature of the recent campaign for me was the opportunity to discuss politics with large numbers of young, first-time voters in my constituency. For me, the first sign of the large swing to Labour in Enfield, Southgate came with the results of the mock elections at our three local secondary schools, Winchmore, Broomfield and Southgate. All three schools voted Labour by overwhelming majorities. That showed the way forward for the results in Enfield, Southgate.

I have never accepted the widely held idea that young people today are apathetic and not interested in politics. I am involved in a Fabian Society research project working with young, first-time voters, talking to them about their attitudes and opinions. In my experience, young people have clear values and strong opinions. What they reject is not politics itself, but the way we do politics in this country—the style, the language and, above all, the adversarial culture. It is an adversarial culture which is best symbolised by the old way that Prime Minister’s Question Time was done. I am sure that many people will welcome the change made in the past week.

At the election, the biggest swing to Labour was among first-time voters. This Parliament owes it to our young people to forge a new sort of politics based on consensus, dialogue and co-operation. That is why constitutional reform is so important.

I welcome the commitments in the Gracious Speech to devolution, the incorporation of the European convention on human rights and to reform of Parliament itself. This is not some arcane, abstract debate that is of interest only to the so-called chattering classes. It is about devolving power to the people and starting to restore people’s faith in politics.

As a Greater London Member of Parliament, I especially welcome the proposals for a new strategic authority and a directly elected mayor for London. This country is alone in the democratic world in denying its capital city a democratic voice. The removal of that voice was one of the most petty and vindictive acts of the previous Government. I look forward to a new elected authority, working alongside an elected mayor. The mayor will be a powerful champion of London’s interests, ensuring that our first-class capital city has the impact and influence that it rightly deserves. I hope that all hon. Members representing London, regardless of their party, will unite in campaigning for a yes vote in the proposed London w ide referendum.

Constitutional reform is not some academic debating point; it has real relevance to the bread and butter concerns of our constituents. A new authority for London can start to improve the appalling state of our transport system. Greater London’s crumbling transport infrastructure is letting down the people and the economy of this great city. We need a new authority and we need a new mayor to take the lead and get London moving again. The Labour party supports a proportional voting system for the proposed new Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. I hope that we shall also adopt a similar system for the new London authority. That will ensure that we have a credible London voice representing the diversity of opinion in our capital city.

More widely, as my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said, our manifesto proposes a commission on electoral reform for the House of Commons, followed by a referendum. Proportional representation for this House is an idea whose time has come. Electoral reform is an important democratic change, which will assist in the renewal of hope and faith in politics itself. Labour’s proposed referendum will enable the people to decide how the House is elected. It is a momentous and crucial commitment. Following the election result in Scotland, Wales and much of urban England, it is an argument that I hope the Opposition will take more seriously than they have done, both in the interests of democracy and of their party.

This Parliament is often described as the mother of Parliaments. There is much in our parliamentary history of which we can be proud. Constitutional reform is not about tearing up our history, but about building on what is good and changing what is not. I support the Government’s proposals, both because they are good and because they will contribute to the renewal of politics and democracy in this country. Now is the time for a new, consensual politics in the United Kingdom. I look forward to playing my small part in securing those important and long-overdue reforms.