Mike Thornton MP’s maiden speech

The newest Liberal Democrat MP spoke for the first time in Parliament yesterday in a debate on the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill, paying tribute to the work of his predecessors David Chidgey and Chris Huhne. As is traditional, he praised his constituency and described its history as a bustling industrial and railway town.

Mike Thornton began by thanking all those who campaigned with him during last month’s by-election, and the voters of Eastleigh for putting their faith in him.

Mike’s full speech, as recorded in Hansard:

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech during this important debate.

Being able to represent the people of my own local area here in the Chamber, with its history and traditions, is an immense privilege and honour. I begin by paying thanks to all those who helped me during the by-election. I thank the whole Liberal Democrat campaign team, whether local, from our headquarters or from around the country, for their tireless work, efficiency and constant cheerfulness, especially considering the weather. Most importantly, I thank the voters of Eastleigh, who have put their faith in me. My first duty is, and always will be, to the members of my constituency, whoever they vote for.

I am surprised, overwhelmed and extremely grateful for the incredibly warm welcome that I have received from you, Mr Speaker, from hon. Members of all parties and from the staff of the House. I must say, I am still trying to absorb all the help and advice they have given me, and I am not exactly sure who has given me what, I am afraid.

Let me pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Christopher Huhne, whose contributions must not be overshadowed by recent events. He was a dedicated constituency MP, and throughout the constituency I have met thousands of people who are extremely grateful for the help that he has given them. Furthermore, let us not forget his outstanding service as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, driving our transition to a green economy while playing an internationally recognised role in combating climate change.

I was delighted to campaign with Lord Chidgey, the previous Member of Parliament for Eastleigh, a man held in such high regard by my constituents that when I was walking around and knocking on doors with him, after putting thousands and thousands of photos of myself through people’s doors and having been on television and in the newspapers, what did they say when they saw us? “Who’s that chap with Lord Chidgey?” If I can be as well remembered as he is, I will feel that I have done a good job.

Although many hon. Members may feel that they already know my constituency after pounding its streets recently, I ask them to please indulge me by letting me talk a little bit about it. Before there was Eastleigh there was Bishopstoke, which just happens to be where I live, and I have served as a councillor there for the past six years. Bishopstoke was mentioned in the Domesday Book, and it was to Bishopstoke junction that London and South Western Railway moved its railway works and employees lock, stock and barrel in 1891. Indeed, it was the company that proceeded to change the name of the station and the surrounding area to Eastleigh. Bishopstoke has never forgiven it.

As the years passed, Eastleigh developed as a bustling railway town with a strong industrial identity and a skilled work force. Aside from the railway, Eastleigh played a major role in the development of Britain’s aero industry, and it was at Southampton airport, formerly Eastleigh aerodrome, that the Spitfire was designed and built. Of course, local people remember with much pride and some sadness that its designer, Reginald Mitchell, foreseeing the awful shadow of war, defied his doctors and literally worked himself to death to ensure that the Spitfire would be ready in time to defend our country against the evil of the Nazis.

I am pleased to say that that proud tradition of manufacturing and engineering continues in Eastleigh —at the rail site now operated by Knights Industries, at GE Aviation Systems in Hamble and through the development of high-tech industries including SPL Lasers and Lubetech in Hedge End and Prysmian in Eastleigh town, which I believe our Prime Minister visited during the campaign. These firms demonstrate that the key to a sustainable and balanced economy is to embrace both the old and the new. Eastleigh is fortunate to have a much lower rate of unemployment and youth unemployment than the national average. Indeed, both have dropped recently. Of course, this week is national apprenticeship week, and I celebrate the fact that more than 28,000 apprenticeships have been created across Hampshire since 2010, many of them helped by Eastleigh college, which has a superb reputation.

In Eastleigh new businesses are opening at an increasing rate, with more than 100 starting up last year due to the support and far-sighted approach of our borough council led by Keith House. Despite that success, however, and having spoken to businesses both as a candidate and previously in my professional role, I have found that business after business is struggling to obtain financial support from our banks to enable it to grow and expand its work force. The Business Secretary has worked tirelessly to improve that situation; I am confident he is succeeding but the banks seem too slow to respond. The funding for lending scheme is a superb initiative, but many banks seem to believe that its purpose is to enable them to lend to people they would ordinarily have lent money to, just at a lower interest rate. As Mark Twain said:

“A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.”

We have seen the start of alternatives such as the extraordinary Bank of Dave, other peer-to-peer lenders, and new banks starting up with a fresh approach. Our traditional banking sector needs to wake up before it finds that its customers have gone elsewhere and that it has joined the penny farthing as an historical curiosity.

Moving on, one of the great privileges of this job is the opportunity to work with local people—the unsung heroes of the voluntary sector. Such people have been labouring away tirelessly in their own local communities, often without much credit and probably no money. From unpaid parish councillors to street pastors, local groups such as the Pilands Wood community association have transformed the area and created an extraordinary sense of community. I would like to mention all the volunteer organisations that contribute so much, such as One Community, Churches Together in Eastleigh, Eastleigh Basics Bank, Acts of Random Kindness—which I recommend to everybody—and Open Sight. I could go on, and I am sorry for not mentioning all the groups, but I would go well past my 12-minute allocation of time.

My constituency is blessed with some of the best schools and colleges in the country. The Deputy Prime Minister and I were privileged to see the extraordinary partnership between Hamble community sports college and the Dynamo school of gymnastics that delivered an Olympic-class gymnasium. I am eternally grateful for the support that my daughter received from superb teachers and staff at Stoke Park infants and junior schools and Wyvern technology college. Wildern, Crestwood and Toynbee schools have superb reputations, and I believe we have been honoured today by a visit from Eastleigh’s own outstanding Barton Peveril sixth-form college. I also want to mention that a friend of mine who taught at that college is sitting in the Gallery now.

I will leave the House with a parting thought about how fortunate I am to be able to step outside my front door and in minutes be in the beauty of Stoke Park woods or walking down the Lloyd to the water meadows, while at the same time being a 15-minute walk from Eastleigh town with its variety of shops and restaurants.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak, and I thank hon. Members for listening with such courtesy. I suspect that next time I am called I will not be heard in quite such a manner. I look forward to serving my constituency, this House and my country for many years, and consider it an honour and a privilege to be here.

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One Comment

  • Sheila Wort 12th Feb '14 - 1:47pm

    As someone who has been campaigning ” to Save Stoneham Park”, I take exception to our local councillor,s headlines in the recent FOCUS. Stoneham Park Saved. Reading farther it seems that only a line of trees have been saved !! Since 1300+ houses are planned on this historic sight, who will be able to see and enjoy these trees.?? Having pointed this misleading statement to those who thought this Historic sight had been saved , Residents were not amused and will now give more consideration at May,s elections.

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