Bill Shankly had it right when he said: “The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards.”Paula Barker MP
We are pleased to reproduce below Paula Barker MP’s maiden speech:
I want to take a brief moment, at the beginning of this speech, to pay tribute to my predecessor, Luciana Berger, who served my constituency for nine years. In particular, her commitment to raising the profile of mental health issues was very encouraging. Although it is an issue more widely talked about than ever in society, it sits far too low down on the political agenda. I wish Luciana and her young family the very best for the future.
My wedding day was the best day of my life and my two sons are my proudest achievement in life, but it is the greatest honour of my life – and a most humbling one — to sit in this Chamber as the Labour member of parliament for Liverpool, Wavertree. I represent a wonderfully diverse constituency in south Liverpool. It has a number of communities – from Childwall to Church, from Kensington to Old Swan, from Picton to Wavertree itself – unique with their own characteristics, rich in their own history and proud of their contribution to our city’s story.
I will speak for all our people in all their diversity, not least for some of the longest-established minority communities in our nation. Our Yemeni community, our Jewish and Hindu communities, and our Afro-Caribbean and African communities. I cannot go on without mentioning how much it means to our city to finally have a black MP from Liverpool sitting on these benches — my good friend, my hon. friend the member for Liverpool, Riverside.
My constituency is economically diverse, too, and that is something I am less inclined to celebrate. Liverpool, Wavertree is the story of two constituencies. The economic disparity between the wealthiest and poorest parts of my constituency is far too great. My socialism is aspirational: it is not about levelling down, but rather levelling up communities that for far too long have suffered at the hands of crushing Tory austerity.
I was born in the constituency at Sefton general hospital. My mother and father both worked at the sweet factory, Barker and Dobson – the name a mere coincidence. Both were workers on the shop floor and members of the Transport and General Workers Union.
When my dad tragically died two weeks before my second birthday, my mum raised me as a single mother. According to the Prime Minister, in his own words, that makes me “ill-raised, ignorant” and “aggressive”. In all honesty, I may well be the latter. It comes with the territory of being a woman with an opinion, and a Scouse one at that.
I joined my trade union, Unison – or NALGO, as it was then — on my first day working for Liverpool City Council, so it is apt that we are discussing a statutory instrument on local government finance today. Liverpool City Council is a council that has had its funding reduced by 64% since 2010, equating to £640m; a council that is the backbone of our communities, providing services from cradle to grave; and a council that, along with so many others, needs to be funded properly and equitably.
I did not find politics; politics found me. I owe most things in life — I make no apology for this — to the trade union movement. It was that movement that gave me security at work. It was that movement that made me understand the power of solidarity. And it was the working-class movement that made me realise that we, the collective, are the tide that lifts all boats. All these principles were reaffirmed – and thank you to Conservative members — by the Conservative party, which waged an unrelenting assault on my city, attempting to put us into a state of ‘managed decline’.
We are self-reliant, hard-working and independently minded people. There is no such inclination towards ‘welfarism’ or a prevailing sense of ‘victimhood’, as The Spectator once asserted while the Prime Minister was undertaking tough, arduous graft doing real work in that infamous sweatshop that was its editorial room.
Like my party, we are a city of work and workers—human beings with long memories, united in our ideals and fundamentally optimistic about our collective future. I will always champion my constituency, my city, wider Merseyside and our beloved north-west region, so long as the good people of Wavertree continue to put their faith in me.
I want to give a warning to Conservative members using a contemporary example, but before I do, I must say that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government is not better qualified to understand the problems that our city faces than the actual people who represent it.
The point is this: if devolution is to mean anything whatsoever, it is Liverpool City Council and the city mayor who should have the power to decide whether to continue the successful landlord licensing scheme. I know that my constituents will suffer on the back of the decision to withdraw the scheme, and we will not take it lying down. We seldom take anything lying down in my part of the world.
Bill Shankly had it right when he said: “The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards.” It is the way he saw football and life. I and my fellow Scousers are not much different. My party has a long road back to power. United in our common aims and values, we can and will overcome the odds to achieve power, because it is only through power that my constituents will be able to realise their hopes, dreams and aspirations.