As any Member of Parliament will tell you, your first speech as a freshly-elected representative in the Chamber of the House of Commons, is an incredibly special occasion, both personally and professionally. This week marks a decade since my Maiden Speech and I can still vividly recall the heady mixture of nervousness, excitement and enormous pride at the prospect of championing the needs of the historic city and constituency of Lincoln. Delivered in front of my family as well as some of my new colleagues, the then Speaker delayed calling me for nearly 4 hours, again – something that a number of backbenchers had to get used to until the end of 2019 – and by then our youngest son of three was taken back to my office to watch daddy on the TV whilst Cordelia, Henry and my proud mother and father watched from the side gallery.
In my speech I paid tribute to the unique and pivotal role Lincoln has played in our nation’s democratic tradition – Edward III presided over a Parliament in our Cathedral and Lincoln is the oldest constituency in continued existence. It is also home to one of only four existing original copies of the Magna Carta, the foundation of British, and therefore world, democracy. Back in 2010 however, little did I know the importance the region would soon play in marking another democratic milestone — by returning the largest leave vote in the country.
But something else I also made clear in my speech, was that despite Lincoln’s historical importance, the city had been left scandalously neglected in terms of key infrastructure — when I was first elected as MP for Lincoln, it was the only city in the country that was not connected to London by a direct, fast train service, and the city was suffocated by entirely inadequate and out-dated internal transport links. Without the ability to ensure people can travel to work on time and safely, and that goods can be moved to where they are needed, the economy of any city suffers. I pledged to champion investment that would bring radical transport infrastructure improvements, and I am proud to say that I have been true to my word.
One of the first things I did as a Member of Parliament was to seek and secure election to the Transport Select Committee in Westminster — which is responsible for scrutinising government transport spending. Through my position on that committee, my lobbying of ministers and my engagement with businesses and the County Council, I have made real progress in improving Lincoln’s transport network and securing vital investment.
For example, when I came to Lincoln, plans for the much-needed and long-awaited Eastern Bypass project were not just in the relegation zone, they had dropped out of the premiership altogether. But after three years of campaigning, I brought home a hat-trick of support for Lincolnshire County Council’s project; from George Osborne, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister David Cameron and the Ministers at the Department of Transport. The £150m plus project is now heading towards completion – first talked about so I am told in 1916, it began before 100 years had passed and will be completed in the very near future. Other successes include improvements to our cross-country train services, upgraded level crossings and footbridges other road improvements and a new bus station, and, finally, securing direct, fast trains to London, initially a single daily up and down service, more recently increased to six up and down services a day (now we would like some extra weekend services too).
But infrastructure alone is not enough – a thriving city needs to combine effective transport links with opportunities and education, two causes that are closest to my heart and which I have campaigned tirelessly for in Lincoln – part of the ‘aspiration’ and ‘levelling-up’ or social mobility agenda long before it became fashionable. During my tenure as the city’s MP we have seen the launch of the region’s first University Technical College and the doors open on a multi-million-pound new school building complex at the city academy on Skellingthorpe Road, where I also instigated a career academy for 16-year-olds with business support from across various sectors in the city and surrounding areas – coupled with this I also aided expansion of our two prestigious universities and college; including the first new Engineering School in the UK for 20 years and one of five new medical schools in the UK at the University of Lincoln in 2017, and at BGU worked with the then Vice-Chancellor, Professor Muriel Robinson OBE, and her colleague Dame Judith Mayhew, who I had worked for and with back in the 1990s in the City of London, who became the first Chancellor of Bishop Grosseteste University which was a long established mainly Teacher Training College which has a prestigious past and a great future as a ‘new’ university.
The past ten years have been both a privilege and a learning curve. Perhaps the most profound of these lessons is also tied to one of the most rewarding and important of aspects of an MP’s role – directly helping my constituents. Before becoming a Member of Parliament, despite working for one in the early 1990s, I had not fully appreciated the appalling amount of red tape and bureaucratic inertia that often seems to plague every-day interactions with local authorities especially but also other departments, and government organisations.
It was, and is, frankly shocking to me that in many cases it takes a buff envelope with a House of Commons Portcullis on it, for constituents to receive the service or what they are entitled to and have already paid for through their taxes. Dealing with local authority and central government departments can at times feel Kafkaesque — and that is as an MP with significant access and ‘power’ – for the average constituent, it must feel like banging one’s head against a brick wall at times. It certainly has done for those who have worked with me in my parliamentary office to help and assist the plethora of my constituents who contact me and their myriad of issues that they raise or are concerned with. Behind the scenes, backbenchers have made their views known to ministers and those who can bring effective and helpful change – we may see that finally in the years to come.
But, perhaps paradoxically, helping people to overcome these obstacles and navigate the unfamiliar corridors of power, are some of the moments of the past decade when I have felt I most effectively fulfilled my responsibilities as an MP. Whether that is with housing, or benefits claims, issues concerning their child’s schooling or wider issues to do with work or their living environment. As a backbencher, there is a certain level of independence that allows you to fight for constituents. I still pinch myself every day that I am able to do this in the House of Commons and that I call Parliament my place of work. Of course I have also in a small way affected various issues or legislation as it has made its way through, or not, the House of Commons on its way to the Statute Book, and at times I hope my arguments have held some sway and made my colleagues think or ponder their own view and eventual voting intention. I have also used effectively the fact that just by being seen and networking in Westminster I have been the city and county’s voice in the ‘corridors of power’- seeking to influence and achieve on behalf of the city and its people who I know and love.
There is another comment I made ten years ago in my Maiden Speech that actually seems likely to finally come to fruition only recently: “Soon, Waddington is due to become the home of the Red Arrows, who are another well-loved and appreciated aspect of Lincoln life, as we are often treated to their practice sessions in the skies above our City.” According to latest reports, the move continues to remain imminent.
I have always said it was, and is, an honour and privilege to be the Member of Parliament for Lincoln — a great, beautiful and historical city. It remains my view today as much as it did 10 years ago. I have done my best to represent all the people of the constituency whether they vote for me, the other candidates, or do not vote at all – whether I was the Member of Parliament or not.
Social media was in its infancy when I was first elected but has grown in ‘influence’ and I have to say not all of it good. Do not believe everything you see or hear – take the claims of detractors for what they are — I stand by my record of ‘Putting Lincoln First’. I have been saying I would do that for over 15 years and my record shows in my view that I have delivered, and will keep delivering, on making the city and the lives and experiences and opportunities of those that live, work, visit and study here, even better than they already are.
The last three months have been difficult for many of us, and has shown in the vast majority of cases the best of people, in a few, not so much. Take care and I look forward to the next 10 years and the beneficial changes and improvements and opportunities those years will bring to us all in Lincoln and across the country.
I finish by thanking all those that made possible the above: my family especially, and my friends, those who have worked with and for me and of course those supporters from near and far who have helped, campaigned, promoted and advocated my tenure as the Member of Parliament for this amazing and beautiful city, and of course those who voted for me, especially the ones who have done it five times – thank you all!