Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.
No one tells you – but it’s one of the strangest things that’s hit me as a new MP. You spend a lot of time in Parliament, but you actually would always rather be on the ground, listening to and chatting with your constituents.
Despite working constantly over Christmas, sorting out urgent constituency matters (such as the closure of a foundry), holding a number of surgeries, hosting visits from ministers, visiting local businesses and groups, dealing with urgent correspondence, and arranging meetings and discussions in Westminster on behalf of my patch, I constantly have a real feeling of guilt at not being in my constituency enough.
This is despite spending three or four days a week there – and I know most new MPs feel the same. When you’re on either the East Coast Mainline or the A1(M), you feel utterly impotent as your precious minutes are devoured by the endless travel time – although at least the train does allow you to catch up on the scores if not hundreds of emails that arrive daily.
Even when you know you can do a lot for your constituents in Westminster, there is an instinctive desire to want to be around the people who sent you there. This is perhaps strongest for new MPs: I know that I feel I want to thank individually the people who have given me the opportunity to serve them in Parliament
There are a host of challenges you face as a new MP. Despite being able to do something for most of the people who come to you for help, there is, occasionally, that person who is coming to you as their last hope – you are their ‘Hail Mary’ – but MPs possess neither a slush fund nor a hotline to the almighty – and truth be told, those who come to you know that too.
The other challenge many new MPs face is Westminster itself and the practicalities. I’m quite lucky in a few areas, not least that I know Westminster a bit. Some new MPs will have never rented a commercial property, or hired staff, or lived in two places at once and the experience can be daunting.
There are two things that make being an MP fundamentally different from being just another commentator on politics, and these are the ability to both vote and speak in Parliament. It’s from those two things that the power to help your constituency really flows. Those two things give you access at all levels. They give you an ability to convene people, and if you’re shrewd, the ability to work with other MPs, organisations and individuals to help change not only the lives of your constituents but the lives of people across the country for the better.
As a new MP, speaking in the House for the first time is an extremely important moment and the first national point where you get to set out what you will do for the next five years to improve you constituents’ lives.
Your maiden speech is unique because it is you, alone, up there for several minutes. The new MP, uninterrupted (because no one can interrupt you during it) speaking in “The Chamber”.
You get to speak about your constituency and the people you represent and put them front and centre in Parliament. So, for a moment, you pause chasing down the local CCG to ensure that they’re properly consulting on plans for local NHS services or arranging meetings with ministers to talk about how you get better transport links to Consett. And you introduce your constituency and yourself to Parliament.
For your maiden speech, the “accepted” boundaries of precedence and convention are clear:
- Praise your predecessor/s – even if you think they’re numpties.
- Five to ten mins – the more concise the better.
- Make sure you’re in the chamber for a couple of the speeches preceding yours and after as well as the opening speeches and the closing speeches from both front benches.
- And that’s about it.
I’m looking forward to helping put some local and national issues on the table later today. How we deliver more good, well paid, jobs locally and enable businesses to thrive; bus services in Weardale, Tow Law and the rural villages; protecting and in the longer-term providing newer NHS facilities in the constituency; improving transport infrastructure in and around Consett, Shotley Bridge, Burnopfield and Leadgate; revitalising the town centres of Willington, Crook and Consett and protecting our rural and farming communities.
And I’ll be briefly mentioning the national issues or campaigns that I hope to be deeply involved in, from getting affordable bus travel to college for 16-18 year olds nationwide, to cracking down on online gambling companies that exploit the vulnerable, to ensuring first rate technical and vocational education is available to all.
There have already been some great speeches this session. Some very funny, some more serious. But what I’ve learnt about a maiden speech is that everything about it reflects the person giving it – from the debate they choose to give it in to the jokes they make, a maiden speech gives you an insight into the MP, how they see themselves and what they plan to do for their constituents and for the country. Dehenna Davison’s, Rob Roberts’s, Mark Fletcher’s and Alicia Kearns’s are but a few of the excellent ones I’ve been lucky enough to see, all showed this – very different, but all very good and reflecting very well on them.
Much like those of my colleagues who have already delivered theirs and those who are yet to find the right moment, like every maiden speech, mine this afternoon will provide a real window into the political soul of North West Durham and the new Member of Parliament who will deliver for them.