An excellent maiden speech yesterday from Robert Jenrick, the Conservative MP and Newark byelection victor.
He began with a tribute to his predecessor:
“Patrick Mercer came to politics after 25 years as a soldier in a Nottinghamshire regiment, the Sherwood Foresters, and his strongly held views, particularly on defence and national security, were rooted in his own experience of military service. He knew what it was like to write to the mother or wife of a fallen soldier. He himself had fought with a courage and bravery we all wish we could display in our own lives. I know that Patrick worked hard for the people in Newark, particularly in his care and support for those returning to Nottinghamshire from Iraq and Afghanistan. I know he was, and remains, deeply attached to this beautiful constituency.”
Mr Jenrick also went further back in history:
“The town of Bingham was represented by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) for some 40 years prior to 2010, and it would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to him, too. There remains great affection for Ken around Bingham and, indeed, across Nottinghamshire. I understand that there is even talk of a statue, but opinion divides as to whether it should face the local cricket pitch, his favourite hostelry or the local Chinese restaurant where the young Mr Clarke is said to have held his early surgeries.
“I also walk in the footsteps of Gladstone, who did not stay long as a Newark Conservative, losing the confidence of the Duke of Newcastle, upon whom much depended in those days, and perhaps recognising that, as in the recent by-election, the Liberal vote in these parts can be quite limited.”
Naturally there was an elegant dig at UKIP:
“The Normans built a castle, later replaced by Bishop Alexander of Lincoln’s summer palace, or at least that is what he told the King when asking permission to build it. That castle was slighted by Cromwell after Newark surrendered following its third siege in the civil war. No town stood alone longer. No people proved more resilient. Its fall was the last order of Charles I, the price of his own surrender to the Scots at Kelham, having arrived at the Saracen’s Head in Southwell late the night before from Oxford, disguised as a priest.
“During the recent by-election, the same inn played host to the leader of the United Kingdom Independence party, who arrived from Malta, not in disguise as far as I know, but also heading to Kelham, in this case for the election count—although he too has not always enjoyed being at the mercy of the Scots. Newark will soon boast the first national civil war museum. Having experience of the arts business, supporting our heritage sector, particularly in the regions, where funding has been limited, I intend to contribute on the subject.”
We had an insight into Mr Jenrick’s staunch support for free enterprise:
Newark’s economy has at various times relied on wool, beer, grain, sugar, cream cakes, transport and antiques. The economy is growing, with 8,000 new jobs created since 2010. Newark has a high proportion of small and medium-sized businesses. My parents set up their own manufacturing business at our kitchen table and I will seek to support many Newark constituents taking personal risks, working hard and pursuing enterprising lives by defending low and simple taxation and light and flexible regulation.
Finally, Mr Jenrick could be forgiven a reflection on the broader political significance of his victory:
I enter the House following a by-election, the result of which was historic—the first such victory for our party in government since that of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. After 25 years and 16 consecutive defeats, my right hon. Friend was, I suspect, only too glad to see his record broken. One journalist described us as the Fred Perry and Andy Murray of the Conservative party. The people of Newark have had to endure four by-elections in the last 100 years, and a further one was narrowly averted. It is my ambition to ensure that Newark now enters a period of electoral stability.
Congratulations to Mr Jenrick on such a witty, erudite and passionate speech.