“I come here as a workers’ representative”

This is the transcript of new Nottingham East MP Nadia Whittome’s “maiden speech” in the House of Commons, delivered on 21 January.

The outgoing Father of the House told me to do my Maiden Speech quickly to get it out of the way, and I wish that’d I’d taken his advice, because I’ve now heard so many fantastic Maiden Speeches that the pressure is really on. I’d like to give a heartfelt thanks to every person in Nottingham East who put their trust in me and put me here. I will not let you down.

I’m able to stand here today because of the hard work, solidarity, talent and dedication of activists, friends and family who gave so much to my campaign. Only one of us is a member of Parliament, but I’m 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 elected. And before him John Heppell, an excellent constituency MP.*

It’s the greatest honour of my life to represent Nottingham East and my home city. But I’m also here to represent the burning planet, and the generation that will be left here to foot the bill and save it from catastrophic climate change. Our generation is brave, collaborative and outward-looking, determined to fight for a future in which everyone can breathe clean air and live well. These are not the whims of youth; they are the deadly serious response to an existential crisis, and the moral bankruptcy of our economic syste. And they are possibly only because of generations of socialists on whose shoulders I am proud to stand.

Nottingham is a city of firsts: the first to recognise misogyny as a hate crime, thanks largely to the work of Nottingham Women’s Centre. And under our Labour council, , we’re on track to be the first carbon-neutral city by 2028. We’re proud of publicly-owned Nottingham City Transport, which regularly wins Bus Operator of the Year. It’s thanks to their wifi that I so often – though not always – got my college work in on time.

We are home to grassroots projects tackling knife crime by giving young people opportunities, like the legendary Marcellus Baz and Jawaid Khaliq boxing schools. We’ve also been put on the map from 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 have sent me here, so let me tell you what they’re up against. 42pc of children [in Nottingham East] live in poverty, firefighters are using food banks, and 8,000 families in our city are waiting for a council home. This is why I’ve pledged to only take a worker’s wage, so I never forget where I’m 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. And when careworkers, retail workers and NHS staff get their pay rise, I’ll 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’m made to feel like I don’t belong here, unless I throw my community under a bus. But that’s not what I’m here to do.

When I first saw the results of the exit poll last month these were the first people I thought about: my friends who are one delayed Universal Credit payment away from homelessness. My neighbour who goes without hot meals so her children don’t have to. 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 bench can use their drug opportunities at university to build street cred.

The Queen’s Speech talks about investment and rightly so, but we’ve heard a lot of empty promises that are worth less than the paper they’re written on. Because jobs without decent incomes, security and a future are creating more new poverty. The new poverty in Britain is people in work. These are the parents of the children going to bed hungry. These are the people who cannot wait five years for the next election to get rid of a government that does not stand up for them.

That’s why I’ll support all those fighting for dignity and pay here and now, like the Deliveroo riders in Nottingham, some of them going home at the end of the day on less than the minimum wage an 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 migrant, the people the Prime Minister calls bumboys and letter boxes. That’s why I’ll campaign for the rights of working-class people to defend themselves, when the government threatens to further limit our right to organise and strike, already one of the most restricted 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 which 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, wages we can live on and we want opportunities that make life worth living.

Let me tell you something. If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep.

* Apparently it is an established custom to praise predecessor MPs in maiden speeches. This seems to us like a custom that should be abandoned. For a more candid assessment of Chris Leslie from Nadia, see here.

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