Thank you Mr Speaker.
It is with a huge amount of pride and a significant amount of nervousness that I make my maiden speech today.
It has been an honour and a privilege to have been the MP for my home constituency of Batley & Spen for ten weeks now. Although if I’m honest, like much of the last five years of my life, it has all been a bit of a blur.
Following the result of the by-election on 1st July – after several weeks of running round the streets of the area where I live asking people to put their faith in me, with not enough sleep and far too much chocolate and caffeine, I quickly found myself on a train to Hogwarts – sorry, Westminster – but nobody gave me a book of spells or taught me how to play Quidditch… but here I am.
I’m sure every new MP experiences the same mixture of pride and responsibility that I’m feeling right now. But as the House does my family the great honour of paying tribute to my sister, I hope members will understand that I mean no disrespect to this place when I say that I would give literally anything, not to be standing here today in her place.
We have heard already what an extraordinary contribution Jo made to politics in the tragically short time that she sat on these benches. The love and respect she earned across this chamber is a testament to the very special qualities she brought to the job and the kind of person she was.
Others are better qualified than I to reflect on her talents as a parliamentarian. And for me, she will always be many other things before an MP – a compassionate and caring humanitarian, a proud Yorkshire lass, a friend to many – including a significant number of those who are sat here today – a loving daughter (and I’m delighted that our parents Jean and Gordon are here today), a fantastic sister-in law and wife, an outstanding mum to Cuillin and Lejla – who remain full of Jo’s energy, optimism and spirit – and the best big sister anybody could wish for.
Jo’s murder ripped the heart out of our family. I have spoken on many occasions about my ongoing disbelief and devastation following her death – and it still doesn’t feel real – today more than ever.
And it was devastating for the people of Batley & Spen too – because so many of them had also taken her to their hearts.
The constituency has much to be proud of, and I will come on to some of those things. But I’m sure I speak for all of us, when I say we take no pleasure in being known as a place that has had four MPs in the space of just seven years.
My predecessors – Jo of course, but also Tracy Brabin and Mike Wood, and indeed Elizabeth Peacock before them – all made their mark in very different ways. I come to this job, as I’m sure they all did, with a determination to do things in my own unique way. I couldn’t do anything else. People may make comparisons, and they are of course entitled to do so – but I am very much my own person and I will always be true to myself – proud of where I come from, and ready to crack on and get stuff done – no matter how big the challenges may be.
Batley & Spen has been through a lot in recent years, but time and again when others have sought to set us against each other, we have come together. When we have been riven by violence or the politics of hatred and division, we have shown the best of ourselves. Generosity, warmth, respect, tolerance and love. Those are the true qualities of the people I am proud to represent.
Jo said in her maiden speech that as she travelled around the constituency she was surprised time and time again by the fact that we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us. I believe those words are as true today as when she said them – perhaps even more so.
But my sister would never have pretended that we don’t have our differences and disagreements – and nor do I. Of course we do. And the world would be a very dull place if we didn’t.
But we should also have the ability to respect each other’s opinions where we disagree, and the good sense to know that our communities can only thrive when they embrace each and every one of us. And I am very clear that we cannot pick our equalities.
I’m Batley & Spen born and bred. I’ve lived and worked in almost every part of the constituency. Heckmondwike, Cleckheaton, Gomersal, Batley, Liversedge, Staincliffe and Littletown. And while the towns and villages that make up the constituency all have their own unique character, of which they are justifiably proud, the problems people face are often very similar. No matter where you live or what your background might be, the potholes in the roads are just as deep, the dangers posed by speeding drivers are just as terrifying and the impact of crime and anti-social behaviour is just as devastating.
There are no easy answers to many of these problems, but having had discussions and meetings with literally hundreds of my new constituents over the summer – on my local ‘Summer Tour’ – it’s clear to me that we all have a responsibility to play our part in tackling them – whether as individuals, organisations, communities or families – it’s no good thinking that dealing with these issues is always somebody else’s problem.
We should never ignore the importance of family and community – and of working together. Across Batley & Spen, and indeed the country, whatever your household looks like, the pandemic has reminded us just how much we need our family and friends and the wider community.
For Jo, and for me, the values we learned from our parents, and the empathy and compassion they instilled in us, enabled us to make a difference in our own ways. And we have seen so much of this in recent times. Our schools and colleges, our churches and mosques, our community organisations and sports clubs, and our families and friends have helped to bind us together to face the common challenges we have shared.
I am incredibly proud of the work of The Jo Cox Foundation in this regard. Such a valuable part of Jo’s legacy – by building a network of ‘More in Common’ volunteer groups and hosting the annual Great Get Together weekend in June on Jo’s birthday – the team have worked tirelessly to tackle loneliness and build togetherness in communities up and down the land.
There is something else we all have in common in my part of the world. We don’t like being taken for fools. So, with respect, I say to the party opposite that fine sounding words about ‘levelling up’ are all well and good, but what we’ve seen instead in Batley & Spen over the last decade are drastically reduced police numbers, huge cuts to the roads repair budget, growing poverty and inequality and queues outside our food banks.
There are areas of my constituency that are desperate for investment. And I will be holding the government to account to ensure that Batley & Spen gets it fair share of whatever ‘levelling up’ money is going – so that it goes to the people and communities who need it most.
We need new opportunities for our young people, the chance to breathe new life into our villages and town centres and support for the many excellent businesses we are lucky to have. We need more jobs - but good quality jobs – doing what we do best in manufacturing and services, not huge soulless warehouses full of robots. That is the only way to ensure a bright and prosperous future.
That is my vision for Batley & Spen – and indeed the country – happy, healthy, united communities working together across the sectors to tackle our problems, supporting each other and celebrating our successes – and where everyone feels included and that they have a role to play.
So, I look forward to making the case for the people of Batley & Spen as their new MP. We’ve all had to get used to using technology to keep in touch in recent times, but I’m very much a people person so I’m pleased that the business of the House is getting back to normal – although with, I hope, an appropriate amount of caution and without complacency.
I’m told that one of the first skills I need to master is bobbing up and down to get your attention, Mr Speaker. And as I have a background in sport and fitness I hope that’s one thing I’ll be good at – I might even add a few squats and lunges to make it a bit of a workout – and you are all welcome to join in of course!
And when I do get the opportunity to speak it will be an honour to bring a bit of straight-talking Yorkshire grit to the debates in this place.
Like Jo, I will be happy to work with MPs of all parties in the interests of both my constituency and the country as a whole. Indeed I am grateful to the many members from both sides of the House who have been so generous in welcoming me here.
I’m quite new to politics so I’m the first to admit I’ve got a lot to learn – I’ve already nearly sat down on the wrong side of the chamber a couple of times. Although whilst that might be the wrong side for now – I’m sure that day will come….
I’ve got lost in the maze of corridors in this remarkable building more times than I care to mention – fortunately someone has always helped to point me in the right direction – so thank you if you were one of those people! I’m sure I’ll make more mistakes because I’m only human - as we all are - and I think sometimes people forget that. We have family and friends – and if we’re lucky maybe even some interests and hobbies outside of politics.
Putting yourself forward for public office is a brave thing to do, wherever you sit in this place, and I appreciate that now more than ever.
And since my election the one thing that people keep saying to me is ‘Kim – please don’t change’ and I don’t intend to. I will always stay true to my roots and identity.
If I can be half the MP my sister was then it will be a huge privilege to get on with the job of representing the wonderful people of Batley & Spen.
Thank you Mr Speaker