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Maiden Voyages: Sarah King; Kim Leadbeater; Jill Mortimer

4 min read

In his occasional series, Patrick Kidd looks at maiden speeches of note.

Like bus drivers’ sons who end up as senior politicians, you wait for a new maiden speech and then three come along at once. In the brief September interlude between summer recess and conference season, three women from three different parties, all perhaps surprising winners of their by-elections earlier in the year, opened their account in the Commons.

First up was the newest Liberal Democrat MP, Sarah Green, who had won Chesham and Amersham off the Tories after the death of Cheryl Gillan. Aided by the Chalfonts, Lees, Missendens and Kingshills, all towns and villages in her seat rather than couples at a dinner party, she took as her theme the works of the area’s most famous author, Roald Dahl. His inspirations are all around her constituency, she said: Matilda’s library, Danny the Champion of the World’s petrol pump and pheasant woods, the orphanage from The BFG. No chocolate factory, sadly.

She compared the scar being cut through the Chilterns by HS2 to the damage that Boggis, Bunce and Bean do to Fantastic Mr Fox’s land, an important matter locally, no doubt, but of little relevance to the debate in which she spoke, which was about voter identification. Maiden speeches are supposed to relate to the business, “to some extent at least,” the guidance says. The emphasis here was on the least. It was also a tiddler of a speech, just four minutes, but at least it is out of the way. It was a throat-clearer of a debut, no more.

Has any line in any maiden speech been quoted more than “we have more in common with each other than things that divide us

Kim Leadbeater, by contrast, not only spoke for three times as long, but had the ultimate relevance since it was in a debate on the legacy of her sister and former MP for her Batley and Spen seat. In 2016, Jo Cox, like Sir David Amess again now in Southend, was killed while doing her job as an MP. Leadbeater had won the 16-candidate by-election by only 323 votes after an acrimonious campaign, but was surrounded by love on all sides. Tracey Crouch, the Tory MP, said she regretted wearing mascara as she was bound to cry; the SNP’s Anne McLaughlin cried hallelujah at the way Leadbeater, who promised “Yorkshire grit,” puts a strong emphasis on the first syllable of Batley – “she puts the battle into Batley and it is wonderful to hear” – and Mr Speaker urged her to get involved in the all-party rugby league group.

It was an emotional speech, of course, and hard for the dewy eye not to keep flitting to the plaque on the wall to her sister’s memory. “I mean no disrespect to this place when I say that I would give literally anything not to be standing here today in her place,” Leadbeater said. She praised her sister’s “generosity, warmth, respect, tolerance and love”, and many mentioned Cox’s assertion of unity in her own maiden speech in 2015. Has any line in any maiden speech been quoted more than “we have more in common with each other than things that divide us”?

The final new maiden was Jill Mortimer, who won Hartlepool for the Conservatives for the first time since 1959. Speaking from the heart of a very chunky Tory doughnut of well-wishers during a Labour debate on working people’s finances, she praised the hospitality and compassion of her constituents and called for greater investment in the area. She was even generous about Peter Mandelson’s efforts to bring redevelopment to the seat, though perhaps that old mushy peas and guacamole story can now be retired.

Danny Kruger, Mortimer’s colleague from Wiltshire, was so impressed by her speech he said he was “lifted off my feet by the sheer patriotism”. Other Tories had been lifted out of the chamber, for the doughnut of support disintegrated as soon as Mortimer sat down. Working people’s finances were perhaps not as important to them as it had seemed when the cameras were on the new kid. 

Patrick Kidd is editor of The Times diary column and author of The Weak Are A Long Time In Politics

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