Maiden Voyages: Ashley Dalton
Ashley Dalton is the new Labour MP for West Lancashire (Alamy)
Making a maiden speech can be daunting, but Ashley Dalton did not rise alone to make hers last month.
The new Labour MP for West Lancashire had brought Paula and Maureen, who run a textiles-based social enterprise in Skelmersdale; Rossi, who had built a garden centre at the age of 19; and Jo from Ormskirk market, who sold Dalton the thermal long-johns that kept her toasty during a winter by-election.
They were the heirs, she said, to the 18th century local women, "who knew their worth” and baked the gingerbread that fortified travellers and put Ormskirk on the map.
Above all, she had brought Sandra, a woman she had met in the campaign, whose children were each working two or three jobs and barely able to get by. “When the best that hard work can deliver is just getting by, something has gone wrong,” Dalton said. “I speak with the voices of Sandra, Rossi and Jo.”
Invoking constituents by name and cause can be a powerful rhetorical device and works much better when heard in silence, as is traditional for a maiden speech, than when Jeremy Corbyn tried to turn PMQs into a local radio phone-in. It was apt, too, that Dalton should speak up for the voiceless on her first outing given that her predecessor, Rosie Cooper, had secured the British Sign Language Act.
Dalton, a confident speaker with a bushy grey quiff like a silver Michael Heseltine, marked herself down as one to watch. It began with a charming buttering-up of Mr Speaker, a fellow Lancastrian, and a well-received tribute to the service given by Cooper, who had been the object of a murder plot. Then on to her main theme in this Budget debate: the cost of living crisis.
“It should not be this hard,” she said. “While wages are down, mortgage repayments are up. While living standards are down, the tax burden is up. This is not a Budget for Sandra. It is not a Budget for Paula and Maureen.” She ended by saying that her community needed help “not for getting by but for getting on”.
More than 75 years earlier, an Ormskirk MP had made his maiden speech in the Commons from the doubly unique position of being on the front bench of the Lords, the Luftwaffe having forced MPs to move to the other end of Parliament.
Harold Wilson, who was given the junior ministerial post of parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Works on being elected in 1945, rose for the first time to answer an adjournment debate on that most thorny of issues: how to make other MPs more comfortable.
The question had been put by Arthur Edwards, a Labour MP who later crossed the floor to join the Tories. He was miffed that, a whole five months after the war had ended, suitable accommodation had still not been provided for all MPs. He said that they were “constantly humiliated” by the conditions they had to work in.
Wilson, admitting that this was “a subject which even veteran members of this House would enter upon only with very great trepidation”, reached for that old defence of “we are doing everything possible” but warned that it would take time to rebuild the bomb-scarred Commons.
He did, however, observe that voters might rejoice in seeing their MPs work among them more often while he hoped that those who could not bear to visit their constituency more than once every four years might be pleased by the decision to provide extra room “for the refreshment of members”. A solid whips’ office ruse: keep the troops well-lubricated and they’ll be less trouble.
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