Hopefully, sometime in the near future we can talk about parliamentary newcomers such as Sam Gyimah MP without referring to his colour. After all, no one refers to a newly elected white politician by colour.
But given the current makeup of Parliament – where Mr Gyimah is only one of 27 minority ethnic MPs – the colour aspect must be pointed out as an achievement in itself. It is an historic breakthrough, particularly for the Conservatives.
Judging from his maiden speech in Parliament earlier this year, Sam Gyimiah is a special individual on many levels.
Some might say that the standing as a candidate in East Surry alone would have put paid to his election prospects – African name and colour in leafy suburbia is not a winning combination.
But Mr Gyimah defied his critics; he beat better known Conservative opposition for the right to stand as a candidate and won the election battle convincingly.
And although his speech was clearly about empowerment some in the Black community might be disappointed that he did not mention his race.
But then did he need to? Gyimah, as a Conservative reflects what he sees as party values based upon, perhaps the individual: “You are your own fortune maker – don’t rely on handouts from the Government”.
In some ways Gyimah’s initial avoiding of the race debate is not dissimilar from the early campaigning days of Barack Obama.
In his candidacy, until the Rev Jeremiah Wright affair, Obama skillfully avoided topics of race and socio-economic issues which painfully divide the USA.
In the end he masterfully confronted the race issue, in a way that Gyimah may have to, if he is to effectively win over all communities.
For now Gyimah used his speech to talk about his own personal journey which is set in a well structured middleclass, back drop that in itself challenges the orthodox view of Black people living in deep poverty within troublesome areas.
Time will unveil how the MP utilises his chunk of power.
Meanwhile, it’s worth celebrating his achievement; he has already made his mark and thereby smoothed the way for future minority ethnic politicians. Well done Sam Gyimah!
Sam Gyimah’s Maiden Speech in Parliament 28 0f June 2010
Mr Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) (Con): Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech on this emergency Budget.
I strongly believe that over the past few years, the state has taken too much. It was interesting listening to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). She declared that the nasty party is back, but I know from my personal life that to protect the vulnerable and to give people a genuine chance of making the most of their lives, we need to empower individuals, families and communities.
In talking to several of my constituents in East Surrey, the constituency I have the honour of representing in this House, it became vividly clear to me that budgetary discussions should focus not only on accountancy, numbers and economic jargon, but on people and their lives and futures: including the hard-working young family juggling child care and work, who are concerned about their jobs and the rising cost of living; the 22-year-old graduate with more than £20,000 of debt, wondering whether she will ever get a job or a foot on the housing ladder; and the couple about to retire who are worried about their pension after years of paying their taxes and saving for retirement, and who are left wondering whether they will achieve their aim-this must be the aim for every generation-of leaving a better future for their children and grandchildren.
For my constituents, this is what the Budget boils down to: real people, real lives and real issues.
Yes, we have beautiful rolling countryside in East Surrey, most of which has been recognised as green belt, meandering between vibrant towns and beautiful villages. It is the epitome of what makes England unique. We know how fortunate we are, and we take seriously our duty as custodians and protectors of the local environment for future generations. We have great community spirit and pride in our area, which means that for the vast majority of people in my constituency, putting back into the community is a way of life.
It sounds idyllic. However, my constituents work very hard, and I know from my postbag that some of them face difficulties just as real as those faced by people in other parts of the country. A lot of them think-and I tend to agree-that the previous Government treated them as a cash cow, and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed. That is true of all those paying taxes, and of the various local councils who do sterling work on a shoestring budget from central Government.
On a national level, East Surrey has been served with distinction by two great public servants: Peter Ainsworth, for 18 years and Geoffrey Howe, who now sits in another place, for 24 years. They championed the constituency in this place and always stood up for what they believed in. I know I have big shoes to fill, and at 5-foot 41/2 inches, I need to stand on the shoulders of giants.
Peter’s radical stance on the environment was instrumental in shifting attitudes to green issues, and he introduced as a private Member’s Bill the Green Energy (Definition and Promotion) Act 2009. I also respect him for sticking to his guns on the Iraq war when it seemed unpopular to do so. From my dealings with him, I can say without equivocation that he is a good man.
I can say the same of Geoffrey Howe, whose mild manner disguised a steely sense of purpose. He was Mrs Thatcher’s longest-serving Cabinet Minister- 11 years is a long time in politics. In his now famous 1981 Budget, when our party faced the task of getting the country back on its feet, he followed the courage of his convictions by deflating the economy at a time of recession, in the face of resistance from all sides, including 364 leading economists who wrote a letter to The Times saying that the Budget had no basis in economic theory.
However, I believe we learned a greater lesson from that Budget-that we cannot pull certain economic levers in certain circumstances. The lessons from that Budget lie firmly with its weaknesses rather than its strengths. We have learned that we cannot be coldly dispassionate when setting economic policy, and that we cannot ignore the effect on jobs and people’s lives. That is why I support our programme to get people back to work. Getting people into work is the best route out of poverty.
As in 1981, our party once again faces the task of redefining our economy and reshaping our society. That is why I welcome the Chancellor’s proposals for small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy. A long-lasting recovery must have its foundations in the private sector, which is where jobs will come from. Jobs will come if we reward enterprise, endeavour and ambition, and if we have a step change in our approach to enterprise. We need to encourage a spirit of adventure. Without accepting that basic premise, we will not have people taking the risks that are essential to creating the next Vodafone, the next Dyson and the next lastminute.com.
Many Opposition Members say that having the state do less by focusing on getting people into work and building an economy based on rewarding endeavor will penalise the less well-off. They are wrong, and I should know. I grew up in very modest circumstances. My standing here in the Chamber is the result of the vision, care and support of a strong mother, who brought us up on her own and overcame numerous odds, and instilled in us character, discipline and the value of hard work. I do not believe that any state programme could achieve what she has. On the contrary, I would have been trapped in poverty, as millions are.
At university I struggled to pay my rent. But for the generosity of my college, Somerville, I would have been thrown out. That could have been the end of my university education, and perhaps I would not have made it here, so I understand that we cannot leave people to the mercy of markets. For me, the crux of the Budget is that we should empower individuals, families and communities to make the most of their lives.
Some have said that on the face of it, I am an unlikely candidate to represent East Surrey. I have pointed out to them that it is a privilege and a pleasure for me to represent this great constituency because every day I see there the values that shaped me and that I hold dear. Those values should be at the heart of our economic policy and should guide us as we seek to reshape our society for the better.
By Regina Abena Nyametscher-Amoabeng