“There is no social justice on a dying planet. There is also no way to tackle climate catastrophe without changing the inequalities at the heart of our economy, and without redistributing power from those at the top to the rest of us.”Olivia Blake MP.
We are delighted to publish below Olivia Blake MP’s maiden speech in Parliament:
I would like to begin by thanking the people of our beautiful, vibrant and diverse community of Sheffield Hallam for putting their faith in me. It is an honour to represent this seat in Parliament. Hallam has a reputation for being prosperous. It is not considered a typical Labour seat, but the area has a very long history of social justice. To the north of the constituency is the village of Loxley, whose most famous son, Robin of Loxley, is also known as Robin Hood. So I am not the first person in Sheffield Hallam to stand on a platform of redistributing wealth to the many, from the few.
My constituency stretches right from the heart of Sheffield city centre, deep into the Peak district. It showcases some of the most magnificent countryside in the UK, including the many reservoirs surrounding Bradfield and Redmires, and the ancient Ecclesall Woods. The area also has a proud industrial heritage. Walking through Forge Dam or Rivelin Valley, you can see the overgrown cranks and grindstones that once drove our economy. Fulwood ward was home to Thomas Boulsover, the inventor of the famous Sheffield plate silver. It is a privilege to represent somewhere that played such an historic role as one of the engines of British industry.
Today, the seat also hosts thousands of students and researchers from all over the world; students who travelled to Sheffield to study at both our world-class universities. I am delighted to represent this young, diverse and multicultural community. Sheffield is such a great place to live and work that so many of our students stay on in the city after they have finished their studies, meaning that we have one of the highest graduate retention rates in the country. However, we also have our problems. I know that by convention maiden speeches are less political than the other things that are usually said in this House, but I hope Members will forgive me for bringing up austerity, the climate emergency and Donald Trump.
Despite the history of Robin Hood, many areas still suffer from massive inequality. Some of the most deprived areas in the city sit alongside some of the least. In fact, on polling day this was stark. We not only spoke to people on the so-called millionaires’ row, but to families who had been hit by the bedroom tax. Our students are saddled with tens of thousands of pounds of debt, and mental health issues are on the rise for our young people. Our schools have suffered almost a 10% decline in funding per pupil and inadequate budgets for the needs of our children, with the previous Government acknowledging that they did not give us enough funding for our children with special educational needs and disabilities. As a councillor, I saw first hand our local government budgets cut, cut and cut again. Government grants have been reduced by 50% over the past decade, making it impossible to deliver services—never mind tackle the climate crisis.
Local campaigners battle to preserve our community heritage, with their struggle to reopen The Plough Inn, home to the second oldest football club in the world, Hallam FC, and where the rules of football were first written down.
The countryside in my constituency is beautiful, but it is under threat. The moorlands are on fire, burnt for grouse shooting. Those acts of vandalism have made flooding more likely and are also putting important species in the area, such as the bilberry bumblebee, at risk. Across the country, peat fires have thrown millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Protecting biodiversity is a key part of tackling the climate crisis, which is why the national park, in its 70th year, is so important to constituents and visitors alike. As we see biodiversity decrease locally, we also see the global consequences of the climate crisis. As the world heats to perilous levels, wildfires have swept across California, dangerous heatwaves and floods have ravaged India, and now fires consume Australia. Across the globe, vast movements of people have left their homes because the coastlines that they once occupied have disappeared or the land that they cultivated has dried up. They join refugees fleeing war and persecution. Those numbers will only increase with President Trump’s actions in the middle east and his climate denial. I am proud that Sheffield calls itself a “City of Sanctuary”—a city that welcomes and defends migrants.
The climate chaos that we all face is unprecedented. Now is not the time for propriety; it is the old way of doing things that brought us to this crisis. Some of the industrial relics of that old way still stand in my constituency, but now we need radical change, and the only way we will get that is by taking radical action now. It is not just urgent; it is well overdue. The science is clear. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that the absolute hard limit for transforming to a zero carbon economy is 2050, but the world is burning now. That is why I support my party’s pledge to work towards a path to net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
To meet that challenge, we need to channel the spirit of industry and innovation that lingers along the rivers and valleys of my constituency in order to restructure our economy fundamentally. Rather than cuts, it is time to invest, not in the CO2 emitting factories of the first industrial revolution, but in the sustainable green energy infrastructure and high-skilled jobs of the green new deal.
Arnold Freeman, Labour’s 1923 candidate in Hallam, founded the Sheffield Education Settlement. It aimed to institute
“streets along which it is a pleasure to walk; homes worthy of those who live in them; workplaces in which people enjoy working; public-houses that are centres of social and educational life”
“an environment in which people ‘may have life and have it abundantly’”.
Freeman was right then and he is right now: the only way we
“have life and have it abundantly”
is if we look after our environment. There is no social justice on a dying planet. There is also no way to tackle climate catastrophe without changing the inequalities at the heart of our economy, and without redistributing power from those at the top to the rest of us.
It is that belief in people that energised our campaign in Sheffield Hallam. It is not a seat that people expected Labour to win at this election. The past two years have undoubtedly been difficult for my constituents, but we ran a positive campaign, rooted in our transformative manifesto, with our pledges to enact a green new deal and rebuild our public services taking pride of place. My constituents told me that they wanted me to transform our economy and save our environment. It is this agenda that I will fight for in the House—an agenda that stands up for our planet and redistributes power and wealth into the hands of our people; and that stands in the best traditions of Sheffield Hallam, from the folk heroes of Loxley to those who fight to save our community spaces and who are fighting to protect our precious moorlands.