Maiden Voyages: Robin Millar and Anum Qaisar Javed
In his occasional series, Patrick Kidd looks at maiden speeches of note.
They also serve who only sit and wait. Robin Millar had been waiting to make his maiden speech for 524 days. While some who had been elected with him in December 2019 had charged straight in like children at a swimming lesson, the member for Aberconwy had loitered on the edge of the parliamentary pool, dipping his toe occasionally in the water with an oral question or contribution in a bill committee, but never the full plunge.
This was all of his own volition. He had not been bobbing up and down for months, failing to catch the Speaker’s eye, but instead had been watching and waiting, steeling his nerve. Perhaps he was mindful of the advice that Winston Churchill once gave a new MP, who asked for the best time to make his maiden speech. “Never,” Churchill said. “Better that your fellow members ask ‘Why does he not speak?’ than ‘Why does he?’”
Even so, the Trappist Tory had let this moment drag on, even allowing for the difficulties of the pandemic, when some had chosen to do it by video. Millar had been on mute for 322 days since the previous debutant, the 138th of the 2019 intake to open their account. In fact, No 140, who had been elected in a by-election only the previous week, even beat him to the mark by 17 minutes.
Anum Qaisar Javed, the new SNP member for Airdrie and Shotts, was eager to dive straight in during the Queen’s Speech debate on health, undaunted by being called straight after three veterans in Jeremy Hunt, Chris Bryant and Damian Green, who between them have 60 years of parliamentary pontificating. “Good luck,” cried Nigel Evans from the Speaker’s chair, as Qaisar Javed, a former teacher of “modern studies” who has switched one playground for another, charged down the diving board.
She did not make much of a splash. It was a perfectly decent speech (and as Evans told her afterwards “mine was shocking”) but there was little memorable. There was a joke about being told by everyone she met in the Commons to “get lost” – not a lack of welcome but the best advice for finding your way round – a few name checks for local activists and then on to her main point of arguing for devolved immigration decisions so that Scotland can decide who staffs its NHS. It was fine for starters.
Then he gave what we might call a textbook maiden
Two speeches later, it was the turn of Muted Millar. He rose from the backmost bench, and began by admitting with a sheepish smile (well, he is from Wales), that he had taken 17 months to get to this point. Then he gave what we might call a textbook maiden: praising his predecessor, Guto Bebb, singing some hymns and arias about his constituency and a couple of paragraphs on the debate at hand.
Millar has a peculiar habit of licking his lips after every full stop. Perhaps a spot of lubrication was needed to get him through some of the names in his speech: Llanfairfechan, Llandudno, Deganwy, Conwy, Gwydir and Dolwyddelan. He took us down into the valleys and up into Snowdonia, before ending with an argument for better health and social care for older people, with some 27 per cent of his constituents above the age of 65. It was thoughtful, personal and worth the wait. As he said at the beginning, he was motivated by the Welsh word cynefin, which he defined as meaning “a sense of belonging and being in the right place”. With this debut, maybe Millar will feel that he has finally found his cynefin in the Commons.