'If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep'

| 22nd January 2020
The Houses of Parliament

The government has announced a new environment bill. 

Flickr Creative Commons
Nadia Whittome MP speaks of a generation that wants “a planet we can live on, wages we can live on and opportunities that make life worth living."

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It is the greatest honour of my life to represent Nottingham East and my home city [as an MP].  But I am also here [in the House of Commons] to represent this burning planet, and the generation that will be left to foot the bill and save it from catastrophic climate change.

We are a generation that is brave, collaborative, and outward-looking - determined to fight for a future in which everyone can breathe clean air and live well. These are not the whims of youth. They are the deadly serious response to an existential, planetary crisis and the moral bankruptcy of our economic system.

Nottingham is a city of firsts: the first city to recognise misogyny as a hate crime, thanks largely to the work of Nottingham Women’s Centre, and on track to be the first carbon-neutral city by 2028, under our Labour council. 

We are proud of our publicly-owned Nottingham City Transport which regularly wins Bus Operator of the Year and with the tram network delivers a clean air zone in our city centre. 

We are home to grassroots projects tackling knife crime by giving young people opportunities, like the legendary Marcellus Baz and Jawaid Khaliq boxing schools.

We’ve also been put on the map by creatives making their name: from Shane Meadows shooting This Is England in St Ann’s, to Young T and Bugsey who started out at Community Recording Studio, and the New Art Exchange in Hyson Green. 

Workers’ representative

I come to this House as a workers’ representative, not for the pomp and splendour but for the people who elected me. The people of Nottingham East sent me here, so let me tell you what they’re up against: 42 percent of children live in poverty, firefighters using food banks, 8,000 families in the city are waiting for a council home.

This is why I’ve pledged to only take a workers’ wage: so that I never forget where I come from, and whose interests I represent. Of course MPs do an important job, but care workers - like me before I became an MP -  also do an extremely important job. When care workers, retail workers and NHS staff get their pay rise, I’ll take mine. 

Historically, so much that happens in this building is designed to exclude and alienate working class people: the old conventions, the antiquated language. As a working class woman of colour, I am made to feel like I don’t belong here unless I follow the rules and throw my community under a bus. But that’s not what I’m here to do.

Because when I first saw the result of the exit poll last month, these are the people I first thought about. My friends who are just one delayed Universal Credit payment away from homelessness, my neighbour who goes without hot meals so her children don’t have to, my friend’s teenage brother who ended up in prison for dealing weed when he had no other job opportunities, while those here on the front benches can use their university drug experiences to build street credibility. 

The Queen’s speech talks about investment, and rightly so. But we’ve heard enough of empty promises that are worth less than the paper they’re written on. Because jobs without decent incomes, security and a future are creating the new poverty. The new poverty in Britain is people in work. These are the parents of the children going to bed hungry. 

Ecological emergency

These are the people who can’t wait five years for the next election, to get rid of a government that is not on their side. This is why I intend to support all those fighting for dignity and decent pay, here and now. Like the Deliveroo riders in Nottingham, the Uber drivers who refuse to accept poverty wages, and Nottingham College teachers organising against unfair contracts.

"These are the people who refuse to be divided by this government. They show us how to win by uniting and fighting back together: black and white, British and migrant, the people the Prime Minister calls “bum boys” and “letterboxes”. 

That’s why I will campaign for the right of working class people to defend themselves. When the government threatens to further limit our right to organise and strike, already one of the most restricted in Europe – we will fight back.

Our burning planet cannot wait another five years for us to urgently address the climate and ecological emergency. Any investment plan that does not have climate justice at its very core is a plan for disaster. Meanwhile, as the planet approaches breaking point, so-called “anti-terrorist” programmes are used to criminalise those who defend it. 

My generation wants a future: a planet we can live on, wages we can live on and opportunities that make life worth living. And let me tell you something: if you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep.

This Article 

This article is based on Nadia Whittome's maiden speech in UK Parliament. 

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