Tristram succeeded veteran MP Mark Fisher in the Labour Party stronghold of Stoke Central following a controversial selection procedure prior to the 2010 General Election.
However, he has put all that behind him and is tipped as one of the Labour Party’s rising stars.
Great privilege to be called in this debate to make my Maiden Speech. I would like to congratulate other honourable members who have made such a fine array of speeches this afternoon ““ on a subject of great importance to our constituents who have sent us here to hold this government to account.
Let me begin by paying tribute to my esteemed predecessor, Mark Fisher, who sat in this House for 27 years and conscientiously, effectively and passionately represented the interests of Stoke-on-Trent Central. Mark’s connection to the Potteries began, improbably enough, when he was writing film scripts in the Staffordshire Moorlands ““ an ambitious venture in Los Angeles at the best of times, but even more so in North Staffordshire. He became a Labour councillor, stood for the Moorlands, and then was selected to succeed Bob Cant in Stoke-on-Trent Central. All the while as an Old Etonian son of a Tory MP ““ they are, as I have discovered, enormously forgiving in the Potteries.
Mark’s maiden speech to this House ““ in 1983, in the midst of the Thatcher recession ““ was a heartfelt lament at the state of the National Health Service in North Staffordshire thanks to sustained underfunding. He spoke of “Ëœold buildings, out-dated operating theatres, waiting lists for general and orthopaedic surgery of more than 12 months.’ Now, after 13 years of good Labour government, that decline has been reversed and Stoke-on-Trent has a brand new £370 million university hospital springing up around the old City General. The first new hospital for 130 years. In addition, we have new GP surgeries, walk-in centres and marked improvements in public health. This year alone, teenage pregnancies are down by some 20% – that is what an active, interventionist, compassionate state can help to achieve.
But Mark was also highly active in this place ““ working closely with Tony Wright on his reforms to the workings of Parliament (which we back-benchers hope to enjoy the fruits of), the All Party Parliamentary History Group ““ which I once had the honour to address and was deeply impressed by the Rt. Hon. Member for Hitchin & Harpenden’s knowledge of dialectical materialism and the life of Friedrich Engels. And Mark also made a significant contribution to the management of the art collection within the Palace. He was, indeed, an arts minister in 1997 and formed part of that heroic DCMS team which delivered a great Labour pledge of free entry to museums for the British people. As his successor, I will be watching closely the incoming government’s commitment to honour that pledge.
It is now my great privilege and profound honour to take up his seat in Parliament. In his excellent maiden speech, my Hon. Friend the Member for Derby North made an ambitious play for his city as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. And while I am a deep admirer of the Derby Silk Mill, the Derby Arboretum and the Derwent Valley, we all know that historic, earth-shattering event ““ the stir of industrialisation ““ began with the great Josiah Wedgwood’s factory in Etruria, near Shelton in my constituency. The pot-works started in 1769 and since then Stoke-on-Trent has become the premier global brand-name for ceramics.
In a recent programme of his excellent series, A History of the World in 100 Objects, British Museum director Neil McGregor described how, “ËœHuman history is told and written in pots more than anything else.’ He went onto quote Robert Browning, “ËœTimes wheel runs back or stops, potter and clay endure.’ At the heart of the English Enlightenment and global civilization, Stoke-on-Trent made its place in history.
But from the 6 towns has emerged more than pottery ““ from the works of Arnold Bennett to the rise of primitive Methodism, from the football of Stanley Matthews to the lyricism of Robbie Williams to the social justice politics of Jack Ashley.
But it has also faced profound challenges: to be frank, globalisation has knocked the North Staffs economy sideways. Cheap labour in east Asia sparked a freefall in ceramics employment; the steel industry could not compete with China and India; and, sadly, Michael Heseltine did for the last of our coal mines. A “ËœPits and Pots’ economy faced the full force of liberalisation with tough local consequences for employment, public health and civic pride.
This brutal process of economic dislocation ““ when “Ëœall that is solid melts into air’ ““ has by no means ended, but there are signs of hope. A vibrant University Quarter is springing up around Staffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent College and the brand new 6th Form centre. “ËœOn-shoring’ is seeing the return of ceramics jobs to Stoke-on-Trent, while a new generation of designer-makers ““ led by the likes of Emma Bridgewater ““ are creating high-value, locally rooted companies. Businesses like Port Meirion ““ which produce the iconic Spode designs ““ is successfully growing from its Stoke base, exporting to Europe, America and South Korea.
But we have much to do in rebuilding our engineering supply chain; raising skills levels across the constituency; and making sure the natural and human capital of Stoke-on-Trent is fully realised. So, we will watch with interest as this government seeks to rebalance the economy and invest in our manufacturing base ““ but, I have to say, the best way to achieve that is not to begin by cutting the budgets of regional development agencies. Nor is it by putting at risk the Building Schools for the Future programme which was set to put right years of underfunding …
My seat, Mr Speaker, is an old if not ancient one. It has a proud pedigree. Born of the 1832 Reform Act ““ of which the Deputy Prime Minister is now such an expert ““ it was first represented in this place by Josiah Wedgwood, the son of the potter. Before then, the people of the Potteries had to make do with backswood MPs from Staffordshire. Wedgwood was a liberal ““ in the proper sense of the word. Like his father, he was committed to the abolitionist cause and was a stalwart of the anti-slavery movement. And it was a great pleasure to have seen that spirit reawaken this year as my electors sent the racist, reactionary and frequently criminal British National Party packing. In doing so, Stoke declared itself once more open for business ““ for new ideas, people, products and cultures.
But Stoke-on-Trent also knows that change has to be matched with continuity and my constituents share a deep apprehension over the government’s ill-thought out plans for constitutional reform. They want to know that when a government fails to win a vote of confidence, Parliament can be dissolved by 50% plus one vote ““ rather than the absurdity of a 55% self-protecting ordinance, designed simply and solely to shore up this misbegotten government. As the honourable member for Christchurch put it so eloquently in his Adjournment Debate, what this proposal does is take away from this House is “Ëœour historic right to vote a Government out of office with a majority of one.’ It was never in a manifesto, it goes against the spirit of giving Parliament more power, and is a retrospective constitutional innovation.
Then we come to the five year Parliament: again a retrospective, constitutional fix to get this government through some muddy waters ““ when, as my Hon. Friend for Rhonda has suggested, the average length of a Parliament since 1832 is 3.8 years and the Liberal Democrats campaigned for four year Parliaments. And all that is before we get onto flooding the House of Lords with new appointees, redrawing parliamentary boundaries to disenfranchise Labour voters, leaving 3.2 million voters off the register, and underfunding the individual registration scheme. But my honourable friends and I will come back to these issues in coming weeks.
In the meantime, I would simply thank the House for its great indulgence in listening to this my Maiden Speech on the Gracious Address. And I would extend an invitation to each and every Member to visit the Six Towns which my honourable friends for Stoke-on-Trent North, South and myself for Central are so deeply privileged to represent in this place.
Tristram Hunt has thrown himself into representing the electorate of Stoke-on-Trent Central with great gusto. Writing a diary entry for the Spector Magazine recently he said:
So, the Labour Party’s latest Stoke-on-Trent MP’s parliamentary career is well and truly under way and if the pundits have got it right, we will be hearing a great deal more of him in the near future.