Dan Carden (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)
I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in what has already been a lively and important debate on the Finance Bill.
Members will remember receiving lots of advice when they were waiting to make their maiden speeches. I found that most people were coming to me saying, “You must be light-hearted and you must be funny.” I am not quite sure why they were saying that to me in particular. [Laughter.] I am not sure I am going to succeed in doing that, but the wonderful staff of the Speaker’s office told me that today’s debate is one of the few that can go all night, with Members able to make contributions that last as long as they want. I will not promise to be as funny as Ken Dodd, but I can promise that my performance will not be as long as his. The great Eric Heffer, who was one of my predecessors, talked of having butterflies in his tummy when he made his maiden speech. Right now, I feel like I have two Liver Birds scrapping in my stomach.
I want to pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Steve Rotheram: popular in Liverpool and popular across this House. I commend in particular his personal contribution to the fight for justice for the 96 and the release of all papers relating to the Hillsborough disaster. In October 2011, standing at this Bench, he delivered one of the most powerful and emotive speeches this House has ever heard. In it, fighting back tears, he forever commemorated the names and ages of the 96, who were, we can now say, unlawfully killed in April 1989. I wish him well as Metro Mayor of Liverpool city region.
The biographer Tony Barnes said of Liverpool:
“where the River Mersey meets the salt of the Irish sea...Waves of immigrants have spiced its unique flavour. Independence, verbal wit and physical toughness are prized, authority resented; at times it seems to crackle with a special charge.”
It is one of the great port cities of the world.
My grandad and dad worked on Liverpool’s docks in the days when they were the engine room of our city’s economic and social life. Casual dock labour gave rise to trade unions, collectivism and working class struggle. We are a city of survivors, and we have had to be. It is one reason we still hold dear our sense of solidarity and why today individuals are strong and communities proud. History, politics, theatre, music all matter. Liverpool’s influence stretches right the way through this nation’s cultural life. It has produced many of our famous and talented musicians, poets, writers, painters, comedians, actors, footballers—the list is endless.
We are home to the oldest and longest-established black community in the UK, the first Chinese community in the whole of Europe and England’s first mosque. Walton has its own proud heritage. L4 is still home to our two great football clubs, Liverpool and Everton, and the Sandon pub, where they both originated, still serves today. Robert Noonan, better known as Robert Tressell, the author of that great socialist manuscript, “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists”, is buried in a pauper’s grave on the site of Rice Lane city farm, and the terraced houses in the shadow of Goodison Park count as one of our country’s most historic residential areas.
Throughout history, Liverpool has proven it can speak with one voice. There is still one right-wing rag that masquerades as a newspaper that no one would be seen dead reading in my city. In this election, the people of Walton acted as one, giving Labour 85.7% of the vote—a psephological phenomenon but, most importantly, a rejection of austerity and a clarion call for a radical alternative. The issues affecting the lives of people across north Liverpool are stark. When I visit primary schools to speak to 10 and 11-year-olds in year 6, the statistics tell me that 18 out of a class of 30 will not go on to get five good GCSEs. The few children’s centres that have survived the cuts of the last seven years and which should be places of play, supporting the development of babies and toddlers, now have to intervene against the ever more severe consequences of poverty. Hunger, ill health and squalor are returning. Drug, alcohol abuse and domestic violence are on the rise. Merseyside police are facing an impossible task as they are “stretched to the limit”—not my words but those of the police chief constable.
I do not have time to do justice to the agony the Government have inflicted through welfare and disability benefit cuts. It is no wonder that people who visit my surgeries as often as not break down in tears before they can utter a single word. In July, I asked the Prime Minister what her Government were doing to stop children going hungry this summer because schools had become part of the last resort, standing between children and hunger. She said:
“the best way we can deal with poverty…is for people to get into the workplace”.—[Official Report, 19 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 835.]
In other words: get a job. The average wages in parts of Liverpool are £10,000 less than the national average, almost 40% of children in Walton are growing up in poverty, and we know that 60% of people in poverty are in work. No wonder her answer was met with outrage across Merseyside.
I am a proud Scouser. My mum has served our national health service for over 40 years on the frontline in Liverpool. Politics began to shape my life when in 1995 my dad was sacked, alongside 500 Liverpool dockers, for refusing to cross a picket line. That dispute—of workers fighting casualisation—lasted 27 months and left my dad unemployed for seven years. From the age of eight I stood on picket lines, and I am as proud to stand alongside workers in struggle today as an MP as I was then as a kid.
Nye Bevan said that he had only one concern in politics:
“where does power lie…and how can it be attained by the workers?”
That is what brings me to this House, and that is why I am so proud to have worked for the last five years for the Unite union, alongside its brilliant staff and shop stewards—and Len McCluskey, the best defender of workers in my lifetime and someone whom I am honoured to call a friend.
Reflecting on the maiden speeches of Eric Heffer in 1964 and Peter Kilfoyle in 1991, one cannot help but be struck by the continuity and permanency of the issues of unemployment, lack of investment and industrial decline. Radical new solutions are needed to tackle social problems that have persisted for generations. Today, the economic reality of north Liverpool makes a mockery of this Government’s rhetoric.
While life today may be hard, the future that we are being led towards is so dark that it is Orwellian. Ministers pretend that they are making tough decisions, saying that we are all going to work until we are 70. They do not care that the low-paid, unrewarding jobs done by many of my constituents will physically or mentally break them well before that age. They brag that they have created 2 million more jobs, but there are people in Walton who are doing two, three or four of them, and still struggling to make ends meet.
We are told that there is not enough money, yet there is deafening silence on the accumulation of corporate profits and tax abuses by the richest; on the gains from growth being funnelled into profits, not wages; and on the fact that we are experiencing the longest period of wage stagnation for 150 years, and have the most regionally unbalanced economy in the whole of Europe. I am 30 years old, and I cannot believe that the generation coming up behind me just do not see secure, well-paid employment, or owning their own homes, as a realistic prospect for themselves. They have only ever known the casual, low-paid, zero-hour economy that 21st-century capitalism demands.
We must see an end to the rigged economy. What comes next is up to us. New technology and automation are transforming the future of work. In the Tory dystopia, it will be a race to the bottom in which every working person loses out and there is always someone else to blame. My parents remember talk of a three-day working week, and the media asking, “What will we do with all our free time?” In his “white heat” speech of 1963, Harold Wilson talked of
“undreamed of living standards and the possibility of leisure ultimately on an unbelievable scale.”
He went on:
“if there had never been a case for Socialism before, automation would have created it.”
That could not be truer today. The fourth industrial revolution—the onset of artificial intelligence, robotics, cobotics, 3D printing and biotechnology, in the context of global finance and multinationalism—poses great challenges, but also great opportunities. It will require bold economic planning, and the political will to make it work for the whole of society. That is why the House must now start to consider ideas such as the “universal basic citizen’s income”. We are the sixth richest economy on the planet, and it is time to stop making excuses for the kind of human indignity and poverty that I see all too often in my own city.
At times, my own party lost its way. We failed to define the banking crisis as the result of casino capitalism that it was, and we started to talk the language of austerity and cuts. It was not good enough, and it only served to let this Government off the hook.
But today we have hope: a Labour leadership determined to transform society. We are once again a mass membership party. Like all great social change, it has been led from the grassroots up, and we have won millions to our cause. As Labour representatives in this House, we have a duty to the nearly 13 million people who voted for our radical alternative just three months ago: a fairer tax system; a more even distribution of wealth; regional investment banks supporting local economies; workers in control of their own lives, and democracy in the workplace; and a society where everyone is afforded the means to fulfil their potential.
More and more people in my city and across the country believe that can happen, and in the words of Yoko and John Lennon:
“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”