I also pay tribute to my most recent predecessor, the right hon. Sir Alan Haselhurst, who served Saffron Walden with distinction for 40 years. He is well known to many of us here as a former Deputy Speaker and one of the kindest Members to grace this House—the ultimate gentleman. He is much loved in the constituency, and I am forever grateful to him for being a brilliant mentor and helping every day of the campaign, come rain or shine. I am still bowled over whenever I remember that Sir Alan became a Member of Parliament 10 years before I was born. It has been a joy to follow in his footsteps—except when we were out delivering leaflets and I found myself consistently outrun by an 80-year-old man.
Like you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am proud to be an Essex girl. Saffron Walden is a great place and was judged the best rural place to live by no less than the Daily Mail. After seven years of Conservative-led Government, unemployment is at an all-time low of 0.7%, and 99% of children go to a good or outstanding primary or secondary school. We also boast the UK’s oldest land college in Writtle.
The constituency covers rural Chelmsford and the major settlements of Thaxted, Great Dunmow and the medieval market town of Saffron Walden itself. It was called Saffron Walden because of its large saffron crop. The spice was worth its weight in gold and was used in medicine, in perfume and even as an aphrodisiac. Like the saffron crocus, I am not a native of the great county of Essex—I come from more exotic climes. While I may not have all the attributes of this versatile flower, I hope that I will equally take root in the area, bring prosperity to the local people and add some colour and spice to this Chamber.
Much has changed since then, but more change is needed—change to the rickety network on which mobile phones operate, change to the inadequate broadband service that has left parts of the constituency with little access to the outside world, and change to the railway line that has become synonymous with being late for work. We cannot claim to offer opportunities to rural areas if basic infrastructure is not provided. My constituents are more likely to get to Spain faster than London, because we have Stansted, the country’s fourth largest airport. It has brought jobs—and noise—and growth to the area on a huge scale, and has cemented my constituency’s position as the epicentre of business, travel and wealth in Essex.
I am often inexplicably confused with a member of the Labour party—I cannot think why. I am a Conservative. To all intents and purposes, I am a first-generation immigrant. I was born in Wimbledon, but I grew up in Nigeria. I chose to make the United Kingdom my home. Growing up in Nigeria I saw real poverty—I experienced it, including living without electricity and doing my homework by candlelight, because the state electricity board could not provide power, and fetching water in heavy, rusty buckets from a borehole a mile away, because the nationalised water company could not get water out of the taps. Unlike many colleagues born since 1980, I was unlucky enough to live under socialist policies. It is not something I would wish on anyone, and it is just one of the reasons why I am a Conservative. I believe that the state should provide social security, but it must also provide a means for people to lift themselves out of poverty.
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