Maiden Voyages: Parliament’s newest MPs
Illustration: Tracy Worrall
Parliament’s two newest MPs wasted little time over finding their voice, each making their maiden speech in January, having been elected in December.
Samantha Dixon and Andrew Western, though 20 years apart in age, have much else in common: both defended a Labour-held seat in the North West, winning by about 10,000 votes; both represent an area where they grew up and were council leaders; both attended the University of Sheffield; and both began their maiden speech with a needless adverb, the blight of modern oratory.
Should I ever become Mr Speaker, I would impose a tax on wasteful adverbs. It would save hours in debates over a session. “Incredibly” is the worst offender, used 11 times on 26 January alone for moments that were apparently incredibly important, experiences that were incredibly valuable and one MP who worked incredibly hard. Such modifiers are used by nervous speakers for emphasis but it has the opposite effect of making it sound insincere and defensive.
So when Dixon (City of Chester) said she was “genuinely delighted” to be making her debut or when Western (Stretford and Urmston) called it “truly an honour” to be speaking on Holocaust Memorial Day, it just made me think that they feared people might not believe them. Am I being insufferably (here a justified adverb) pedantic? Infuriatingly (ditto) quibblesome? A touch, but if you don’t stamp this out early you end up with Andrea Leadsom, who as Commons Leader could barely get through a business statement without eight or nine incrediblys.
Both began their speech with a needless adverb, the blight of modern oratory
That aside, both had solid if unspectacular first outings. Dixon was a bit keen on jargon to start with – “the principles of social value… aligned with good fiscal management” – but as she loosened up she spoke with enthusiasm and vision on such subjects as regeneration, apprenticeships and neighbourhood policing.
Western, as was natural in a debate on the Holocaust, spoke of community cohesion in his diverse constituency and invoked Winston Churchill, never a man to fritter an adverb, whose grandson and namesake had represented the seat. “Housing is the first of the social services… one of the keys to increased productivity,” the 1951 Tory election manifesto said. Western promised that Churchill’s ambition 72 years ago would drive him now.
What I most love about maiden speeches are the humble brags, the little nuggets thrown in to demonstrate why their seat is unique. Dixon did best for quirks, saying that the sandstone from a recent drainage tunnel was now part of the rhino enclosure at Chester Zoo; that the city’s River Dee hosts the world’s oldest rowing regatta, which set up a complaint about the dumping of raw sewage; that the Roman fortifications still form a complete circuit, running for two miles (now that’s what I call a red wall); and that Gyles Brandreth, the fun-loving former Tory MP for the city, had announced his candidacy on Red Nose Day.
Western, however, wheeled out the heavy artillery, calling his seat the birthplace of the NHS, as Nye Bevan had opened a hospital there in 1948, and that it had been “key to defeating fascism” since Spitfire engines were made there. Bigger still was his pride that Coronation Street has been made there since 2013 and that Old Trafford is synonymous with sport, though as a Manchester City fan he said he was tempted to note that they only play cricket there. Speaker Hoyle admitted to sharing Western’s uncertainty about the existence of association football at Old Trafford, but wanted it recorded in Hansardthat last year’s rugby league World Cup final was played there. The Speaker is a man who prefers his balls to be oval.
Patrick Kidd is editor of The Times diary column and author of The Weak Are A Long Time In Politics
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