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Continuing my series on Red Wall parliamentarians, this week’s MP is Jo Gideon, who represents Jonathan Gullis‘s neighbouring constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central.

Stoke-on-Trent Central, like Gullis’s Stoke-on-Trent North, was created in 1950. 2019 was the first time a Conservative had been elected to represent the constituency when Jo Gideon narrowly defeated Labour’s Gareth Snell on December 12 that year.

Gideon, 69, had made two previous unsuccessful attempts to unseat Labour MPs. The first was in 2015, when she lost to Labour in Scunthorpe. The second was in 2017, when she lost to sitting Labour MP Melanie Onn in Great Grimsby. Gideon was third time lucky nearly three years ago.

Her maiden speech, which she delivered on January 23, 2020, was a triumph.

She told us in detail about The Potteries, part of which she represents (emphases mine):

I am absolutely determined to focus on the economy and jobs in Stoke-on-Trent Central, and I am extremely grateful to have been called to speak today.

Stoke-on-Trent is on the up—confident about Brexit, proud of our industrial heritage and committed to a manufacturing future. It is an incredible honour to represent the people of Stoke-on-Trent Central, and I thank them for sending me to this House. The city is, as my predecessor Gareth Snell rightly put it in his own maiden speech, “vibrant, welcoming and proud”. I pay tribute to him for championing the ceramics industry and its continued place at the heart of the Potteries’ economy. Gareth was always protective of the industry in this House, at every stage of the process—from bringing in the clay by freight train, to getting the finished product out into the world so that plate turners everywhere could flip their tableware and see the uniquely reassuring back stamp, “Made in Stoke-on-Trent”. There will be no change there from me.

Stoke-on-Trent is six historic market towns in one. Tunstall and Burslem are ably represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), and Longton and Fenton by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton). Stoke-on-Trent Central is made up of Stoke-upon-Trent, commonly known as Stoke town or simply Stoke, and Hanley, which is often seen as the city centre, although not necessarily by everyone in Tunstall, Burslem, Longton, Fenton or Stoke. Our city is polycentric and rich with history, a fascinating place to visit and a wonderful place to live. The last time that either Hanley or Stoke town were in Conservative hands was back in the 1930s, and then only for one term. Much as I am proud to follow in the footsteps of Harold Hales and Ida Copeland in being a Conservative elected by the people of Stoke-on-Trent, I shall be looking to replicate the success of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South in being re-elected by the people of Stoke-on-Trent.

She talked about her constituents’ support of Brexit and what it could do for the local economy:

The House may think that this was a Brexit election, but it was not just a Brexit election. It was a “Brexit and” election; it was a “Brexit so that” election. We are not just going to get Brexit done. We are going to invest in our NHS, schools, police, roads and infrastructure. With the right support, we can make Stoke-on-Trent an even better place to live and to visit. To do that, we must relentlessly improve education standards and skills, and revolutionise the public transport provision to cut ​congestion. Productivity is too low, exports do not match comparable cities such as Coventry and the city does not quite do what it says on the tin. We need more Stoke and we need more Trent.

Stoke town needs every penny of the heritage high streets money it has been promised, and it needs clearer and more direct pedestrian routes to Stoke-on-Trent railway station. I will work with anyone who can preserve our heritage while taking us forward. For too much of its course through the city, you would not know the River Trent was there. I will learn lessons from anywhere as to how to improve public access to watercourses. Although I welcome the Government’s fund for new pocket parks, I will lobby relentlessly to get more funds into historic parks too.

She told us more about the ceramics industry in this treasured part of Staffordshire:

Our identity as a city is closely linked to the ceramics industry, and preserving the authentic Potteries landscape must be part of our tourism offer, but the ceramics industry itself must always be allowed to move into the newest processes at the cutting edge of technology. I want to see the successful Ceramic Valley enterprise zone expanded, and the plan for an international research centre for advanced ceramics to materialise in my constituency. This would allow for the expansion of world-class innovation by companies such as Lucideon, where I recently learned about advancing sintering, which is a process that enables materials to handle the heat—something that we know all about in this House. In fact, on Friday I saw some scintillating sintering in Stoke with the Secretary of State for International Trade. The research centre will also be supported by Staffordshire University, the world’s leading centre for masters level ceramics and the successor body to the Burslem and Hanley schools of art that gave the Potteries such pioneers as Susie Cooper, Edith Gater and Clarice Cliff. Still today, international ceramicists who could base themselves anywhere in the world choose to locate in Stoke-on-Trent because it is the authentic capital of ceramics, and it must remain so.

However, as the ceramics industry has been in long decline, the local high streets of The Potteries have suffered:

Stoke-on-Trent is increasingly a centre for the logistics industry, and over many years retail has been important to the six market towns. But the internet is threatening to harm our marketplaces and high streets even more than they have already been harmed by 1960s traffic schemes and 1970s architects. We need radical reform of retail business rates, and we need to make the high street a more relevant and attractive place to be, with more local residents living in town centres and more international tourists and buyers exploring our city.

She also spoke of the importance of realising one’s personal aspirations:

The entrepreneurial spirit that made the Potteries great must be unleashed again—unleashed and nurtured.

I set up and ran my own business from scratch. I did not have a business background, which probably helped me because I did not worry about the unknown—rather like the feeling I had when I first set foot in this place as the Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central. Enterprise has no educational barriers, only barriers of self-belief. It must be the business of Government to enable more people to have the opportunity to pursue their dreams, and we need to include enterprise in the school curriculum. Ambition must be encouraged, supported and rewarded, and your background should never hold you back. Let us back those who have no family history of setting up a business, let us nurture those in business who have never yet exported a product ​and let us encourage those entrepreneurs who are yet to be employers to take on their first member of staff. For my part, I will gently encourage the Government at every turn to invest in the infrastructure and services of Stoke-on-Trent.

She discussed the need for better bus and rail transport. A mid-1960s rail network redesign by Richard Beeching saw many stations and branch lines close. A few of these closures are now being reversed across Britain:

Most urgently, that means nothing short of a transport revolution across the city to cut congestion for private vehicles and speed up services for bus and rail users. Beeching did not so much swing an axe in Stoke-on-Trent as wield a chainsaw. Too many branch lines were lost and too many stations were closed—and it got worse still. As late as 2005, the Strategic Rail Authority shut Etruria station, and dug it up completely in 2008. Stoke-on-Trent is crying out for better public transport. We need a big share of the transforming cities fund, the bus fund, the reverse Beeching fund, and more, to make up for the decades of under-investment in Stoke-on-Trent when we missed out on our fair share. I really hope that we will be a pilot scheme for the superbus project, as our geography of six towns in one city can offer best practice for places elsewhere.

Jo Gideon has participated in many House of Commons debates.

In a debate on geothermal energy on September 15, 2021, she discussed how and why The Potteries developed and how their energy system could be used today:

This topic is really important to me as the Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central. We are a pioneer city, at the forefront of exploring the geothermal option. I am delighted that this debate places a spotlight on geothermal, which is more environmentally friendly than conventional fuel sources, provides a more reliable clean energy source than other renewable options and offers an operational lifespan of more than 100 years. In addition, geothermal supports the transferability of skills and jobs from the oil and gas sector and provides development opportunities in regions such as the Midlands, bringing new jobs and investment to areas that do not currently benefit from renewables such as wind power.

Crucially, the technology supports our transition to net zero. As we look to reduce our carbon footprint through a circular economy based on the principles of reducing, reusing and recycling, it is fitting that Stoke-on-Trent is at the forefront of this movement. The Potteries, home of pots and pits, retains a huge underground maze of former mine tunnels. The coal from those mines fired the kilns and the steelworks, and blackened the skies across the city at the height of its heavy industrial past. We are now powering our city up again, but this time as part of a new green industrial revolution, reducing pollution by investing in improved public transport, growing our nature recovery network, reusing the infrastructure of a former polluting industry to deliver new, clean energy, and recycling the hot water within the mine tunnels through our district heat networks.

Several factors make Stoke-on-Trent an ideal location for the development of this technology. First, the area has ideal geological conditions. Its geothermal gradient, which shows how much the temperature increases as we dig deeper, is greater than expected due to an ancient volcano deep beneath the surface providing untapped potential. We are leading the way with the Stoke-on-Trent district heat network. I thank the Government for providing £20 million for this pilot project. The district heat network features 18 km of piping and has led to affordable and clean energy for a community in the city and the first dedicated skills academy.

The project led by GT Energy to develop a deep geothermal heat plant in Etruria Valley in the city already has planning permission. The development would be the first of its type in the UK and would comprise the initial drilling of two deep exploration boreholes to a depth of approximately 4,000 metres. I believe it will be the first in the world to feed into a district heat network. The proposed development has the potential to bring a host of benefits to the local area, including creating green economy skills and jobs, reducing carbon emissions by 11,000 tonnes per year and generating heat equal to the energy needs of around 4,000 homes.

At the end of the debate, the minister replying on behalf of the Government said that work could begin in 2022 — with funding available now, in fact:

I thank all Members who have spoken today and who continue to bring their enthusiasm and passion to the debate. Stoke-on-Trent is extremely well represented by amazing advocates in my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) and for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon)—the latter is a fantastic saleswoman who sees Stoke as the potential centre for the new geothermal revolution that is coming. We were hard-pressed not to know her passion, and I thank her for that …

In answer to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central, geothermal heat projects are expected to be in scope for the £270 million green heat network fund that will open in April next year. I hope that that helps those who are looking to bid in that space to get going now.

Gideon is also concerned about animal welfare, not only concerning domestic pets but also livestock standards. This is what she had to say on February 4, 2022 about Andrew Rosindell’s (Conservative, Romford) Private Member’s Bill on the subject:

I fully support the aims of the Bill, which will mean that penalty notices can fill the enforcement gap between taking no action and seeking criminal prosecution. I am delighted that today’s debate provides us with the opportunity to discuss how we can go further to improve animal health and welfare in this country.

Several of my constituents selflessly volunteer at Animal Lifeline in Stoke-on-Trent. It is a fantastic charity that has cared for dogs for more than 40 years, with approximately 100 dogs in care at any one time. Each year, the charity rescues and rehomes around 300 dogs and puppies and it has saved more than 11,000 over the years.

A volunteer recently shared with me concerns that have arisen as a result of covid. The pandemic has hit animal charities hard financially due to charity shops having to close and kennels not being able to hold their usual open day fund-raising events. Animal charities across Stoke-on-Trent and the county have had to take in more animals than usual

I praise local animal charity staff, who have been amazing. Many have taken cuts in wages and found innovative ways to reduce costs. The cost of living challenges are also pushing up the cost of essentials such as dog food, vet bills, utility bills, fuel and wages. With all that in mind, we should all consider the options to provide sufficient support to charities to ensure that they can continue to provide a vital service to our local communities.

I have been involved in the national food strategy. Within that, we look at a range of recommendations for improving animal welfare with regards to food production. The Government are looking at that at this time. Thankfully, the UK already leads the world in animal welfare and livestock husbandry. The same cannot be said of many of the countries that we import from. Allowing cheap imports from such countries not only undermines our own standards, but undercuts our farmers. This is an issue that many people feel strongly about, with 94% of the public wanting existing food standards to be maintained in future trade deals.

The national food strategy argues that, when making new trade deals, the Government should only agree to cut tariffs on products that meet our core standards. As such, I am pleased that the Government recently launched a new Trade and Agriculture Commission, which will inform parliamentarians and the public about how new free trade deals are consistent with UK laws on animal welfare. The Government must go further, however, and draw up a list of core minimum animal welfare standards that they will defend in future trade deals. I am pleased that when they announced the Australian deal, they said that they would include measures to protect our standards. It is reassuring that the deal contains a chapter on animal welfare, and I urge the Government to come forward with more details as soon as possible to allow Parliament to sufficiently scrutinise that part of the deal.

Again, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford on bringing forward the Bill, which I am delighted is fully supported by the Government and the Opposition. I look forward to continuing my support for this legislation as it passes through the House, in addition to championing animal welfare causes in years to come, whether by calling for more support for local animal charities or for more animal welfare protection in future trade deals.

On that topic, she expressed her concern about diet and obesity in her constituency on February 8, 2022:

There are plenty of fast food outlets in Stoke, but it is quite difficult to find nutritious options. It is not about eliminating all unhealthy choices or making us feel guilty about eating them: it is about increasing the choices available and ensuring that everyone can easily find and afford good food. I am reminded of the words of Lord Woolton, the Conservative party’s food Minister in the 1940s. He said:

“Feeding is not enough, it must be good feeding.”

Those words are as true today as they were back then.

Many colleagues have commented that my social media includes many posts of me eating a variety of what Stoke has to offer, from oatcakes—which are an important part of our culture and heritage—to healthy Sunday roasts. I have been surprised how popular the posts are. I do them to show food choices in our city and to promote local businesses and organisations through the medium of food. Food is central to our society, communities and daily lives. Food brings us together and allows us to share stories, ideas and cultures, and build wonderful memories, but food should not make us sick.

Currently, four out of five leading risk factors for disability, disease and death are related to poor diets. In other words, the British diet is making us sick. While the average percentage of adults living with obesity or excess weight is 62% in England, it is 72.8% in Stoke-on-Trent.

She wants to see a national food strategy as part of the Government’s levelling up plan. Her perspective sounds a bit nanny state-ish, although one can appreciate the importance of good food at a reasonable cost:

This must set out a bold, brave and ambitious set of immediately actionable policies to help everyone in Britain to eat well. The six non-negotiable actions include the “eat and learn” recommendation that includes mandatory accreditation for food served in school to ensure that high-quality and nutritious food is not a postcode lottery; school curriculum changes such as reinstating the food A-level and Ofsted inspection of such lessons; and mandatory reporting for large food producers and manufacturers so that we know the proportion of healthier versus unhealthy food that companies are selling, as well as other metrics such as food waste.

We need to look at the sugar and salt tax. We need to look at public procurement so that those in our public sector buildings get the healthy food that they deserve. We need to introduce a good food Bill. We need to ensure that all these strategies feed into each other making sure that we are the healthiest we can be. That is absolutely part of levelling up.

Well, she can start by visiting school canteens in France, if that’s allowed. They have excellent menus in schools, most of which read like lunches made by one’s grandmother.

In another debate on February 4 this year, she extolled the importance of meaningful employment for people with Down syndrome:

I would like to mention a very interesting and important project that I was involved with a few years ago in a very isolated community in the Brecon Beacons [Wales] called Myddfai. The challenge was to create sustainable employment and regenerate a very isolated village. As part of the project, we created a trading company, and within that trading company we were able to employ a number of young people. I am glad to say that, eight years on, there are still young people employed there today, some of whom have Down syndrome. Members can see if they look on the website, myddfai.com, how happy they look in the photographs. It is really satisfying to see how the right employment can fulfil.

On January 25, in a debate on a trade union levy, she responded to Labour’s John Spellar, whose contributions I normally like but think he went a bit over the top with this remark. However, this was when details emerged of lockdown parties in Downing Street. In response, Boris’s advisers launched Operation Red Meat, a series of policies designed to keep Conservative voters on side:

I declare that I have been for 50 years a member of the Unite union and its predecessors—in that time, I have been a branch chair, a branch secretary, a delegate to the trades council and a national officer of the union—and I am proud to be a trade unionist today …

One of the questions we have to address is, “Why now?” Why, particularly, is this coming up now? It has been four years or so in the making. Is this part of Operation Red Meat to throw something to the rabid, foaming Back Benchers of the Tory party, whose leitmotif—one of their articles of faith—is their hatred of trade unions to the benefit of employers, because they know that workers organised will recognise that they need to advance through politics too?

Jo Gideon intervened to say that she, too, had been a member of Unite:

I would like to challenge the statement “hatred of trade unions”. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North and several other hon. Friends have already spoken about their massive support for trade unions, and I declare that in a previous role I was a member of Unite and was supported fantastically through that union. Making statements like that does not help us to have this discussion in a professional manner.

However, her most illuminating contribution was to highlight the criminal aspect of waste disposal, which she said on February 1, is more lucrative than the trade in illegal drugs and people trafficking:

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this vital debate secured by my parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell). He has made a strong and clear case for the need for more action to tackle the blight of criminal activity in the waste industry. This appalling activity is putting tens of thousands of lives at risk across the country.

In my constituency, I have been fighting for a lasting solution to one such waste crime, which had the potential to be a national disaster. Yet, as the site in question is being cleared, up and down the country unscrupulous criminals are filling warehouses or plots of land next to residential properties and littering our countryside with waste that presents a real threat to the health and safety of surrounding communities.

I wrote to the Prime Minister and multiple Departments last year to highlight the urgency of clearing a site that has been a significant risk in Stoke-on-Trent Central since 2014, and I am delighted that my campaign has resulted in clearing the Twyford House site of an excess of 30,000 tonnes of illegal and combustible commercial waste. I thank the Minister for her support in making that happen, so that the danger that has been there since 2014 can finally be removed.

My hon. Friend’s tireless work to tackle the environmental disaster at Walleys Quarry landfill is an example to us all. Although the quarry is in his constituency, the consequences of the activities at that site are suffered by my constituents too, and I have also been persistently raising their concerns with the Environment Agency and Ministers. The pace of progress to resolve the problem has been a frustration to us all. Does the Minister agree that there is a clear need for the separation of regulation and enforcement authorities?

The current approach to the regulation of more than 180,000 waste carriers, brokers and dealers is leading to record levels of crime, which may well spike later this year when the increased cost of red diesel will mean many looking to cut corners to make savings, for example through the use of exemptions codes. It is a sad fact that waste crime is more lucrative on the basis of risk-to-reward ratios than human trafficking or drug dealing.

This is not a victimless crime. Public health and public safety are dependent on stopping the serious waste industry criminals. We must have better regulation and tougher sentences.

Wow. Who knew?

One of the things I like most about Jo Gideon is her ladylike demeanour. Although most female Conservative MPs conduct themselves in a similar manner, Jo Gideon stands out in her dignified, poised and professional presentation of various issues being debated in the House of Commons.

I wish her well and hope that she is re-elected at the next general election.

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