I made my Maiden Speech in Parliament during a Labour-led debate on the Housing Crisis.
You can read it in full below:
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech this afternoon. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) on his truly inspirational maiden speech.
The constituency of Leeds East—or East Leeds as we locals call it, because it is not just a constituency; it is a distinct area as well—is a place I could not be prouder to represent. Leeds East is my home, and my family have lived and worked in Leeds East for over 100 years, ever since coming from Ireland to look for work.
Before I talk about Leeds East, I want to talk about my predecessor, George Mudie. He served our community for nearly 40 years: first, as a local councillor in Seacroft in Leeds East; then as leader of Leeds City Council; and then as our MP. For me, he embodied the ethos of public service. In an age when so many are so cynical about elected representatives, he remains loved and respected across East Leeds and across Leeds. People know he was in politics for the right reasons—not to feather his nest or carve out a career come what may, but to make life better for ordinary people. To listen to him speaking up for his constituents, for our area and for accountable, well-funded public services in public hands was to witness someone speaking with a real moral force that no kind of synthetic media training could match. The memory of George Mudie’s tireless work as our MP lives on in the minds and hearts of all those whose lives he improved.
From Crossgates to Colton, from Halton Moor to Harehills, from Swarcliffe to Seacroft and Gipton, Leeds East is a fantastic place. People are friendly, people—including perhaps their MP—“tell it how it is”, and people by and large have always supported the correct team, whether that be in football or in politics. But all is not well in Leeds East, and housing is one of the major issues in my constituency. It is a constituency where the percentage of people owning their home has gone down, where the percentage of people renting a council house is markedly down and where the percentage of people renting from private landlords is markedly up. Wages are too low, rents are too high and Leeds City Council does not have enough council houses or enough money to build enough more of them. Too many people are priced out of buying a house.
In the past four years, the number of people in Leeds East who are in work but who have to rely on housing benefit has increased by nearly 80%—not a surprise when one in five people in work in Leeds East do not get paid a living wage and more and more have been pushed on to zero-hours contracts. Last year, there were over 18,000 people in Leeds on the council house waiting list. So-called “affordable homes” are affordable in name only, at 80% of the market rent, and it must not be forgotten that 1,440 homes in Leeds East are hit by this Government’s cruel bedroom tax. For the first time in not far off a century, mothers and fathers across Leeds East face the reality that their children have less chance of getting a council house and of being able to afford to buy a home than they did when they were their age. The people of Leeds East deserve better. They need a Government who will not just “leave it to the market” when it comes to housing and everything else; a Government who will control rent increases; a Government who will give local councils the money they need to build council houses; a Government who will not force councils and housing associations to deplete their housing stock at bargain-basement prices; a Government who will resist the big building companies’ pursuit of quicker and easier profits and ensure that brownfield sites are built on first in an effort the better to protect our green belt; and a Government who will not choose to hit the most vulnerable with policies such as the bedroom tax.
Fundamentally, people in Leeds East need a Government with an alternative economic strategy, and an economy that works in the interests of ordinary people, not just in the interest of big business and the super-rich. The economic divide we now have in the UK makes a mockery of the Conservative rhetoric of one nation. Our nation is in fact divided into those whom the current economic system serves and those whom the current economic system uses and, all too often, abuses.
In politics, in life and in the economy, I believe that fulfilment of potential only comes when, in the words of the Leeds United song, we are “Marching On Together”. There is such a thing as society and there is such a thing as community. I am proud of the society and community I come from and I look forward to standing up for the people of East Leeds in this House in the years ahead.