As a woman of African origin, I also believe that there is a lot that Africa can teach us. Sound money is not just a catchy phrase. The lesson of Zimbabwe is salient for us today. Money cannot be printed and redistribution cannot be successful without first creating wealth. Edmund Burke said that society is a contract between the dead, the living and those yet to be born. I say to colleagues who are wavering on tackling the debt and the deficit, “Hold your nerve.” This is part of that contract that we owe to our descendants. To leave our children carrying the burdens of our debt and excesses is morally wrong.
I believe in free markets and free trade. But there is more to conservatism than economic liberalism—there is respect for the rule of law; personal responsibility; freedom of speech and of association; and opportunity through meritocracy. Those freedoms are being subtly eroded in an era when emotion and feeling are prized above reason and logic. It is those freedoms that I will seek to defend during my time in this House.
There are few countries in the world where you can go in one generation from immigrant to parliamentarian. Michael Howard spoke of the British dream—people choosing this country because of its tolerance and its opportunity. It is a land where a girl from Nigeria can move, aged 16, be accepted as British and have the great honour of representing Saffron Walden.
There are some in this country, and this Chamber, who seek to denigrate the traditions of this Parliament, portraying this House as a bastion of privilege and class, that “reeks of the establishment”, as someone said. It is no coincidence that those who seek to undermine the institutions of this island—Parliament, monarchy, Church and family—also propagate a world view that sees Britain, and the values we hold dear, as a force for bad in the world. Growing up in Nigeria, the view was rather different. The UK was a beacon, a shining light, a promise of a better life.
Often we hear the radical reformer John Bright misquoted as saying that the House of Commons is the mother of all Parliaments. What he actually said was that this country is the mother of all Parliaments. Our political institutions may not always be held in high esteem, but I believe that politics is a mirror held up to society. Yes, it can sometimes be unedifying. Yes, we see human weakness on display. But it also embodies much that is great in our country. When I walk down these corridors and stand in this Chamber, once graced by my heroes, Winston Churchill, Airey Neave and Margaret Thatcher, I am filled with nothing but awe, respect and pride for all that it stands for.
As Woody Allen said about sex, “If it’s not messy, you’re not doing it right.” The same is true of democracy. It is not always predictable; its results are not always elegant; it can throw up results that no one expected—but we adjust. The British Parliament always has adjusted, and that is why it is the oldest in the world: it takes its lead from the British people.
We live in difficult times and face historic challenges. People are rightly concerned about what Brexit will mean for the country, for their jobs and for their families. But I do not believe that winter is coming. I believe that the vote for Brexit was the greatest ever vote of confidence in the project of the United Kingdom: that vision of a global Britain to which the Minister referred. It is a project that, as a young African girl, I dreamed about becoming part of. As a British woman, I now have the great honour of delivering that project for my constituents in the greatest Parliament on earth.