You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘The Potteries’ tag.

On Monday, July 25, 2022, Conservative Party leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak headed to Stoke-on-Trent, comprised of three Red Wall constituencies, for a BBC debate:

Burning issues: earrings and China

The day began with controversies over handling China and how much each candidate had spent on their respective wardrobes.

Boris loyalist Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport tweeted about the latter. The photo is from last week on the final day of Conservative MPs voting:

The normally charming Angela Richardson MP tweeted a rather sharp reply to Dorries, requesting that she be quiet.

On China, things were more complex, as Guido Fawkes reported:

Neither candidate has the edge here.

Guido wrote (red emphases his):

It’s unsurprising, given his tacit endorsement from the Chinese propaganda arm Global Times, that Rishi has decided to go in hard on the country’s security threat this morning. Declaring the Chinese Communist Party “the largest threat to Britain and the world’s security and prosperity this century”, Sunak attacks Liz for “[rolling] out the red carpet” and turning “a blind eye to China’s nefarious activity and ambitions”. He calls for a new NATO alliance to be set up to counter it the threat, and pledges to close all 30 Confucius centres, which teach Mandarin in the UK and are thought to be used as fronts by the Chinese intelligence services.

In response Team Truss returned fire last night, using Iain Duncan Smith to call the policy “surprising” and asking where Sinophobe Sunak has been for the last two years. Her team points to the above Sunak’s endorsement by Global Times, and says he has been consistently soft on China.

Sunak’s Confucius closure policy is directly levelled against Truss’s supposed record at DfE, where during her two-year stint nine of the 31 centres were established:

His team pointed out that nine of the 31 Confucius centres in Britain were established when Ms Truss was an education minister between 2012 and 2014.

Hmm.

Who is behind Rishi’s race to No. 10?

Before I get to the debate, I have been thinking more about Rishi than Liz. Who is pulling Rishi’s strings? I don’t think Liz has an unseen agenda, but Rishi could well do.

On Thursday, July 21, The Express gave us background on Rishi, some of which not all of us knew (emphases in purple mine):

recently made headlines after he became . He and his fashion designer wife Akshata Murty’s fortune stands at an eye-watering £730m. The recently resigned Chancellor owns four properties with his 42-year-old wife, including in Santa Monica, California, but now hopes to add another to his collection, in the shape of No 10.

Before landing a job with Goldman Sachs and making his millions, Mr Sunak studied at one of the most expensive private schools in the country before heading to the University of Oxford.

The 42-year-old was born in Southampton to GP mother Yashvir and pharmacist father Usha Sunak.

Mr Sunak — the eldest of three — first attended Oakmount Preparatory School in Southampton, Hants, before attending Stroud School, King Edward IV Preparatory, where the school fees grow alongside the student: the older they get, the higher the tuition.

It is thought Mr Sunak joined Stroud School in Year 4 after Oakmount closed suddenly in 1989.

In Lord Michael Ashcroft’s biography, Going For Broke: The Rise of Rishi Sunak, it is claimed that the former Chancellor was well-liked, being both head boy and captain of the Stroud cricket team

After leaving in 1992, Mr Sunak joined the 600-year-old Winchester College as a boarder, where the yearly school fees today amount to £45,936 per year, and £33,990 for day pupils …

Winchester College, founded in 1382 by William of Wykeham, has numerous notable alumni — known as “Old Wykehamists” — including several archbishops and Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter.

Why does Rishi want to be PM when he could be leading a charmed life?

His wife has non-dom status. Do they intend to move to India? It would be a return to that nation for her, as her father founded Infosys.

There’s a story here.

In any event, so far, Rishi has more than 20,000 Conservative Party supporters, apparently.

He also agreed to allow Andrew ‘Brillo’ Neil, a notorious tough interviewer, to question him on Channel 4 this Friday evening:

In 2019, when Neil was still on the BBC, he was frustrated that Boris did not go on his television show to be grilled for the leadership contest that year.

Guido says that Liz Truss might follow Boris’s example:

Rishi Sunak has agreed to do a sit-down Andrew Neil interview this Friday on his Channel 4 show at 19.30. Liz Truss’s team are yet to say whether she’ll also agree. Given she’s the Boris continuity candidate, there’s a past precedent she may not…

Boris petition gets 10,000+ signatures

Speaking of Boris, the petition from Conservative Party members to add him to the ballot surpassed 10,000 signatures on Monday:

Guido said:

On Wednesday, Guido reported that 3,500 Conservative Party members had signed a petition calling for Boris to be allowed to compete in the leadership contest. Since then, that number has tripled, with 10,000 fully paid-up Tories now adding their names to the list, and presumably ruining the CCHQ inbox. As Rishi and Liz take to the campaign trail, this demographic may well prove difficult to ignore. It’s already over 20% of Boris’s stonking majority from the last leadership election…

BBC debate

The BBC chose to hold Monday night’s debate in Stoke-on-Trent — the Potteries.

Stoke-on-Trent has three constituencies, all of which are Red Wall. I wrote about their first-ever Conservative MPs earlier this year: Jo Gideon, Jonathan Gullis and Jack Brereton.

It was commendable of the BBC to get an audience of local residents who voted Conservative in 2019.

Sophie Raworth was the moderator. Off to one side were BBC experts Economics Editor Faisal Islam and Political Editor Chris Mason, who also asked questions of the candidates.

During the debate, one of the voters said that she was concerned about the ongoing issue of trust in the Government overriding the all-too-real need for strong policies.

The Express has the video. The woman spoke briefly and eloquently:

It just seems very very easy, and as we’ve heard a lot, to blame Boris over trust issues, as though everything is going to be fine now.

But it seems to me there is a more fundamental issue around a culture in Westminster.

It seems very much more focused on the short term, you know, the catnip of a media soundbite.

Rather, it should be focussing on, okay, ‘What are the difficult things that need a long-term solution’.

She actually said, ‘the short-term catnip of a media soundbite’.

She should copyright that. It sounds just like something Boris would say.

Liz had gravitas. I would rather have a reserved presentation from her than Rishi’s Tony Blair impersonation, which was unsettling to watch — and hear.

Rishi also should have worn a tie. Maybe he wanted to look in touch with the audience. Even so, these debates are interviews for the next Prime Minister. One should look the part.

Overall, Rishi interrupted Liz too much. Guido counted a total of 14 times.

Often, Rishi looked as if he were mansplaining:

He was irritated. We saw this during his parliamentary campaign.

Rishi’s facial expressions and voice inflection show that he does not like being contradicted:

That’s not the best look and it will not go over well if he tries that with Andrew Neil on Friday. Neil will zero in on it.

Sophie Raworth only interrupted Rishi’s interruptions of Liz once. That is likely because Liz is the ‘continuity candidate’, meaning she is loyal to Boris. By now, we should all know that the BBC, along with others, wanted desperately to get rid of Boris because of Brexit.

Ergo, Raworth was not there to do Truss any favours.

Rishi was adamant that his tax rises were the right thing. Liz said they were Project Fear:

Here’s the video:

Nadine Dorries’s tweet about attire came up:

Liz said that she would not give Rishi any fashion advice:

She did, however, advise him to be ‘bolder’ in carrying out Government policies. She did not specify any, but one that comes to mind is the amount we are still paying the EU for our exit. He should have nipped that in the bud in January 2020.

Rishi grilled Liz over her conversion to Brexit. She had been an active Remain campaigner before the 2016 referendum.

However, Guido points out that Rishi has not always been consistent. Corporation tax comes to mind:

Guido says:

Rishi’s going in hard on Liz over her change of mind on Brexit – it turns out it’s quite easy for them to hit back at him with even more recent examples of political conversions…

The debate ended with a quick-fire round of questions:

The candidates agreed on nearly everything. The only difference was when Sophie Raworth asked them to rate Boris on a scale of 1 to 10.

Liz Truss gave the former Party leader a 7.

Rishi hemmed and hawed a bit, then gave Boris a 10 for handling Brexit and the 2019 election well.

The Express has the exchange:

Mr Sunak said: “You know what, my views are clear: when he was great, he was great; but it got to a point where we needed to move forward.”

BBC host Sophie Raworth asked: “What does that mean? Five out of ten?”

Mr Sunak replied: “Well, actually, in delivering a solution to Brexit and winning an election, that’s a 10 out of 10.

“You have got to give the guy credit for that. No one else could have probably done that.”

The crowd then erupted into a loud round of applause.

So, Liz did well on the topic of Boris …

… but did Rishi do better?

The hint might be that Conservatives prefer Liz.

Afterwards, Opinium took a snap poll. Liz won the Conservative vote hands down:

Guido offered this analysis:

Overall Rishi bests Liz by 1% among all voters. Rishi needed a slam dunk victory, this is the opposite of what he’d have wanted polling to show…

YouGov also polled Conservative Party members who watched the debate. Guido has the detail.

YouGov’s summary results show that Liz is streets ahead of Rishi:

The UK’s newest channel, TalkTV, hosted a debate sponsored by The Sun on Tuesday night:

Too bad that GB News couldn’t have pipped them to the post. Then again, TalkTV and The Sun are Murdoch outlets.

More about that debate in a separate post.

Advertisement

Continuing my series on Red Wall MPs, today’s concludes the Stoke-on-Trent trio with Jack Brereton, who was the first Conservative MP elected to represent Stoke-on-Trent South in 2017.

Brereton’s two neighbouring Conservative MPs are Jo Gideon and Jonathan Gullis.

Brereton is 30 years old but got involved in politics at the tender age of 18. In 2010, he ran unsuccessfully for councillor in the East Valley ward in the Stoke-on-Trent City Council election. Undeterred, and studying for his degree in Politics and International Relations at the local Keele University, he ran again in 2011 and held the Baddeley, Milton and Norton ward for the Conservatives.

He completed his degree at Keele in 2012 and was re-elected as councillor in 2015, after which he served on the local Regeneration, Heritage and Transport committee on the City Council as part of a Conservative/Independents ruling coalition.

In February 2017, he ran unsuccessfully in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election. However, a snap general election was called that June, under Theresa May’s leadership, and the Conservatives selected him to run for Stoke-on-Trent South.

Brereton defeated Labour’s sitting MP Rob Flello, who had represented the constituency since 2005. Aged 26, he was the youngest MP in the 2017 Conservative intake.

He continued to serve as a local councillor until June 2019, when he announced that he would not be standing for re-election.

In Parliament, Brereton served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Department of Education in 2018. Between September 2019 and January 31, 2020, he was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Department for Exiting the European Union. Afterwards, he became the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Defence.

From this, we can see that he has a lot of energy and enthusiasm for politics and for his constituents, most of whom voted to leave the EU.

He has also found time to study at University College London and divides his time between the capital and Stoke-on-Trent, where his wife and son live.

Maiden speech

The most interesting speeches in the Commons are the maiden speeches. One learns so much about our beautiful nation from them.

Jack Brereton gave his maiden speech on July 18, 2017. That day, the Stoke Sentinel reported (emphases mine):

Jack Brereton’s win in Stoke-on-Trent South last month, which ended decades of Labour domination, was one of the most notable results in the General Election.

Indeed. Stoke-on-Trent South voters had been loyal to Labour since the constituency was established in 1950.

He showed his love for his home town and the Potteries in his maiden speech, excerpted below:

It is an absolute honour to be able to make my maiden speech and to represent the people of Stoke-on-Trent South in this place. Stoke-on-Trent is the city that I grew up in and where I have lived my whole life. Nothing could make me prouder than serving the people of Stoke-on-Trent South in Parliament.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr Rob Flello. I thank him for his commitment to Stoke-on-Trent South over the past 12 years. He will be remembered as a dedicated community activist in Stoke-on-Trent and was respected here for his campaigning on a number of national concerns, particularly those relating to the road haulage industry, in which he played an active role.

Stoke-on-Trent is a unique place with a strong cultural identity. It is a city founded on its industrial heritage, with those industries now resurgent and a hotbed of innovation. The potteries were born out of industry and our culture flows from that

Stokies are especially known for their friendliness, and many visitors to the city remark on how welcoming the local people are. What makes us most distinctive, however, is our geographical make-up, following the coming together in 1910 of six different, individual towns to form one body. Two of those towns, Fenton and Longton, are in my constituency. However, we did not gain city status until 1925, in what was a rare modern occurrence of royal intervention in which the monarch countermanded the Government. Having initially been refused city status by the Home Office, Stoke-on-Trent made a direct approach to His Majesty King George V and became a city on 4 June 1925.

Surrounding the pottery towns of Fenton and Longton, my Stoke-on-Trent South constituency includes a diverse slice of north Staffordshire. We have the only grade 1 listed building in Stoke-on-Trent, the Trentham Mausoleum, which is the final resting place of the Dukes of Sutherland. They were significant philanthropists in the area, particularly in Longton, Normacot and Dresden, giving land and paying for many of the important public buildings and facilities that we see today. They include the fantastic Queen’s Park, the first public pleasure park in the potteries, which was opened to commemorate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee. It was once a lone oasis in an otherwise smog-filled urban area, but today we are one of the greenest cities in the country, with more than 1,380 hectares of parks and open space. One of the most important natural sites, Park Hall country park, is in Weston Coyney in my constituency. It is a site of special scientific interest and the only national nature reserve in Stoke-on-Trent.

Where once stood thousands of bottle ovens in Stoke-on-Trent, only 47 now remain. They are protected, of course, and I am pleased to say that half of those iconic structures are in my constituency, with the largest number in Longton. My constituency has no shortage of first-rate architectural gems, both old and new. Many of these important historical sites have now been converted, with a number becoming enterprise centres to host thriving small businesses. They include the Sutherland Institute, St James’s House, CoRE and now also Fenton Town Hall, which has been reborn as a centre for business and industry by the grandson of the original builder and benefactor, William Meath Baker. There is a tremendous spirit of resourcefulness and renewal in my constituency, and it gives me great optimism that so many of our heritage landmarks will continue to find new uses in a new age

Stoke-on-Trent has been a global city, designing wares and products to fit every taste and market. We have been exporting and trading products around the world for centuries, and that has never been more true and important than it is today. We have some of the most advanced steel manufacturing in the world. Just like pottery, steel manufacturing has strong roots in Stoke-on-Trent. Goodwin International, which is based in my constituency, is a world leader in mechanical engineering, producing some of the most intricate steel components, both large and small. It works in partnership with Goodwin Steel Castings in neighbouring Stoke-on-Trent Central, which has been producing machined castings since 1883—one of the 10 oldest companies listed on the stock exchange. Goodwin’s products are of the highest standard and are used right around the world in energy production, bridge construction and armed forces equipment.

Today in Stoke-on-Trent our industries are becoming more diverse and more innovative than ever before. Rated nationally as the second-best place to start a new business, it is the No. 1 city for business survival and the ninth-fastest growing economy in the UK. Productivity has increased by over 25% since 2010. It is ranked fourth for employment growth and has one of the fastest-growing housing markets, and our big ceramics businesses have increased production by over 50%.

People are waking up to what Stoke-on-Trent has to offer as one of the best connected places. We have kept ahead of the digital curve with some of the best broadband connectivity, and we are rated as having the best 4G download speeds in the country, not only making Stoke-on-Trent a key hub for some of the leading brands in distribution and logistics, but putting the city at the forefront of a revolution in digital and advanced manufacturing.

Our clay-based industries in particular have become more diverse and are expanding into new sectors. Whether healthcare, tourism, high-tech materials or construction, ceramic products are becoming ever more essential in the modern world. That has been exemplified by recent investment in the Wedgwood factory and visitor centre in my constituency. The fully refurbished factory site manufactures some of the finest wares in the world, and the World of Wedgwood visitor centre is a must see for any tourist. Most recently, we have seen the opening of the brand-new Valentine Clays facility in Fenton, which is continuing the growth of the industry and supplying clay and raw materials to potters around the country.

Our growing economy and industry are supported by strong academic institutions. Staffordshire University is now rated one of the best nationally for some of its digital courses, such as gaming. We also have Keele University—I should declare an interest in that my wife and I are both Keele graduates—which is renowned nationally for its academic strength and has won numerous awards for the quality of its academia, including being ranked top nationally for student experience and student satisfaction and most recently being awarded gold in the teaching excellence framework. Importantly, the universities play an active part in the community and economy of north Staffordshire and have a critical role in the innovation and development of our local industries.

The businesses and people who have invested in Stoke-on-Trent South are rightly proud of what we have achieved. As their strong voice in Parliament, I am determined to work to create better jobs that will spread the net of opportunity wider. Critical to that will be securing the best possible deal from leaving the European Union, guaranteeing trade and ensuring ease of access to markets throughout the world. That is what people in Stoke-on-Trent South overwhelmingly voted for in the referendum and what people were saying to me on the doorstep during the general election campaign. I will be calling on the Government to advance trade agreements around the world as part of a more global Britain that supports businesses in Stoke-on-Trent South to sell their products abroad. This is about creating prosperity for every household in Stoke-on-Trent South, driving up skills and increasing local people’s wages. We need to see not just more jobs in Stoke-on-Trent South but better jobs that pay higher wages and take full advantage of the talent that Stokies have.

We need to see investment in our infrastructure that ensures businesses in Stoke-on-Trent can continue to thrive and local people are not blighted by sitting in daily traffic jams. It will mean improving our transport network to be fit for the future, improving rail and road connections to my constituency to help address congestion and ensuring that we see better local rail services to Longton station and improved connectivity to Stoke-on-Trent from across the country.

For our industries to grow and create the jobs we need locally, we must also ensure greater energy security, with infrastructure that matches the needs of our manufacturing sectors. As a city made up of towns, we need to ensure that our town centres are healthy and that our high streets remain relevant to the local communities they serve. I want to see Longton and Fenton town centres become stronger, with new housing and businesses moving in. Those are my priorities as Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent South.

I began by speaking of our heritage and culture in Stoke-on-Trent. I could not be more delighted that our city has been shortlisted for UK city of culture 2021. Stoke-on-Trent is the world capital of ceramics, which is an industry and art that has not only shaped my constituency but has left its stamp on our national culture. Many Stokies, like me, are proud of the products we see around the world that are back-stamped “Made in Stoke-on-Trent” and “Made in Britain.” A Stokie can often be spotted apart turning over a plate or a mug to check where it was made.

The Palace of Westminster, like many of the greatest buildings across the country, is filled with products manufactured in Stoke-on-Trent. From the tableware to the Minton tile floors, each piece is an ambassador for Stoke-on-Trent. I was a little disappointed to find that the ongoing floor restoration works in Central Lobby are using tiles manufactured in Jackfield, Shropshire. However, I was reassured to discover that the powder used to produce these fantastic tiles is sourced from Stoke-on-Trent

This debate is about drugs policy. The use of psychoactive substances in particular is increasing, which is ruining lives and is a significant cause of crime on our streets. That not only affects police services but puts pressure on our national health service, which has to deal with much of the human cost of drug abuse.

Far too many ordinary people in my constituency have felt the impacts of drug use and told me they do not feel safe in our communities. I will be working with Staffordshire police and Matthew Ellis, our police and crime commissioner, to ensure that we continue to see drug use decline and we act against the associated crimes. Much progress is being made by local partners and communities; putting in place a public space protection order in Longton has made a big difference. I have particularly seen the fantastic work put in by volunteers such as Street Chaplains locally in my constituency. Significant work has been done to help ensure people feel safe and welcome when visiting the town centre, and in directing people who need help to get the right support.

Often the misuse of drugs can be linked to mental health problems, and I have been pleased to see Staffordshire leading the way to ensure that people with mental health problems get better support. Local services, the police and the voluntary sector continue to work more closely in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire to help people get better support to tackle addictions and change their lifestyles. I want to play my part in ensuring that we continue to tackle these issues in our communities, so we continue to see drug-related crimes reduced and people with addictions get the right support.

In the end, Coventry won the 2021 bid for the UK City of Culture.

However, Brereton remained a strong supporter of Stoke-on-Trent.

Channel 4 relocation

On October 17, 2017, Brereton put forward a Ten-Minute Rule Bill proposing that Channel 4 move their offices out of London, in the way that the BBC moved many of their operations north to Salford.

Excerpts follow:

Being in public ownership means that Channel 4 has a responsibility to the nation, not just in the innovative and boundary-probing programming that it rightly produces, but in the way in which it is organised and run. Truly, it must be operated for the benefit of all parts of our country, throughout all the nations and regions that make up the UK. We should consider the effects of the BBC’s relocation to Salford Quays, with the creation of MediaCityUK. The regeneration that comes from such investments has a much wider ripple effect beyond the transfer of the headquarters, staff and offices. With the right location, such moves can significantly boost prosperity across a whole region and help support thousands of jobs. As the Secretary of State said at the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport last week, more people are employed at Salford Quays today than there ever were when they were docks. That is a direct effect of a public service broadcaster fulfilling its remit in its most inclusive sense.

Channel 4 could have a significant transformative impact on a new location, with the potential to anchor wider regeneration and deliver jobs over and above those which move out of the capital. Very careful consideration must be given to location in order to maximise and extract value. There could be an open competition to decide on the new location, allowing interested areas and sites to put forward their case, ensuring that the site that delivers the greatest impact and fulfils the needs of Channel 4 is selected. This is not just about the benefits a move could have on a specific area; many organisations could have a similar impact from relocating their headquarters. There is greater significance in and much wider benefits from helping to rebalance the institutions of broadcasting within the UK to reflect much more effectively the diverse communities in our constituencies across the country, and to bring a fresh perspective.

The realities faced on a daily basis by my constituents in Stoke-on-Trent South and those in many constituencies throughout the UK are very different from those experienced in London. As I said, Channel 4 produces some phenomenal programmes that are greatly valued, but this could be so much better. If Channel 4 relocated out of London, the organisation and its employees would experience directly the true vibrancy and diversity across the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. The programmes it produces could be drawn from a much more diverse palette, giving a much greater scope, depth and quality to what we see on our screens.

As a commissioning organisation, Channel 4 has huge potential to support the wider broadcasting and creative sectors across the countries and regions of the UK. Many small and medium-sized businesses right across the country could contribute significantly to diversifying the content produced by Channel 4, but currently all the decisions are made in London and many companies and organisations are not getting a fair chance. A move would have much greater knock-on benefits across the industry, helping to support and create more highly skilled jobs outside London. Location is hugely important not only to extract the greatest benefit from our media, but to ensure that there are the skills available in the workforce to match the demands of the organisation.

There are a number of extremely interesting suggestions for a potential future location for this national broadcaster. They come from a number of areas across the country, including from my area, Stoke-on-Trent. Many parts of our country have the wealth of skills and creativity— both in industry and academia—needed to support the relocation. I know from visiting Staffordshire University that our academic institutions across the country have state-of-the-art digital and media facilities. For example, Staffordshire University is now rated the best in the country for computer gaming.

Industries and universities right across the country are leading the way in the digital and creative sectors. The move of Channel 4 out of London would further support this success and mean that more of those skills could be retained in other parts of the UK. This is the critical point: we are currently seeing a brain drain of skills and employment opportunities from across our country towards London. The Bill aligns with the Government’s industrial strategy to help to rebalance the economy, driving prosperity right across the country. I hope that all hon. Members can support that aim.

The further benefit that a move could realise is to counteract the consequences of an overheating property market in London. Land is much cheaper and more freely available outside London, particularly in areas like mine, meaning that the costs of development and moving have the potential with the right location to be significantly lower. Much of the cost of the move could probably be made back from the sale of Channel 4’s current headquarters site on Horseferry Road.

The cost of property also has an important effect on the likely quality of life of those working for Channel 4. Outside London, workers are likely to be able to afford a much better quality of life. The average house price in the Cities of London and Westminster constituency in quarter 1 of 2017 was £1,275,000 compared with £122,150 in my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent South. The Bill does not specify a location to which Channel 4 should move, but it secures the principle of a move away from London and would allow for the process in selecting a new location and facilitating the move once a location is agreed.

I encourage Members on both sides of the House to back this Bill and ensure that Channel 4 can continue to improve the quality and range of its broadcasting to reflect the entire UK.

Question put and agreed to

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October 2018, and to be printed (Bill 111).

The bill was successful. One year later, on October 31, 2018, Channel 4 announced that it would be moving 25% of its staff to Leeds, meaning that half of its programme budget will be spent outside of London by 2023.

Transport

It is not surprising that having served on the local Regeneration, Heritage and Transport committee on the Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Jack Brereton has a keen interest in improving public transportation links in his constituency.

One of the ongoing issues is the reopening of the Stoke-Leek railway line, more about which below.

First, however, was his debate from January 23, 2020 on improving local bus routes, excerpted below:

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) and I made clear to the Minister’s colleague Baroness Vere recently, bus services are too few, too slow and too infrequent. Indeed, a survey I conducted in a number of communities in my constituency resulted in many hundreds of replies saying just that. We now have communities that lack any service, with elderly and vulnerable people left cut off. The removal of evening and weekend services has also had a major impact on people’s ability to get to work and get around the area.

At the same time, local train services—they are almost non-existent and are often overcrowded—have been under a slow process of decline. Little more than 100 years ago, north Staffordshire had an excellent local rail and tram network. Old maps reveal that we had one of the most comprehensive public transport networks in the country. Since then, local rail lines and local train stations have been lost. The tram network has gone altogether and the bus has risen and fallen as a replacement. It is on bus services that I will focus most of my remarks today …

The six historic market towns in Stoke-on-Trent share a north Staffordshire identity that is more than merely geographical with the other historic market towns around the city, including Newcastle-under-Lyme, Kidsgrove, Biddulph, Leek, Cheadle, Stone and Stafford, which are home to many commuters to and from Stoke-on-Trent. Improving and enhancing the public transport links between all those towns is important for our economic growth. Sadly, bus use in the Potteries has declined by more than 10% in the past year alone, with more than 1 million fewer bus passenger journeys in 2018-19 than in 2017-18. The number of journeys fell from 10.4 million in 2017-18 to 9.3 million. Compounding the disappointment is the fact that bus use had at least seemed to have levelled off from the previous decline. The 10.4 million journeys reported in 2017-18 were an increase on the 10.3 million reported in 2016-17. However, at the start of the decade, more than 15 million journeys were recorded.

Since 2010, the relative cost of travelling by car has decreased considerably. Fuel duty has rightly been frozen and even for those who are entitled to free bus passes, the falling marginal cost of driving has disadvantaged bus services in relative terms. Relative price signals have often been compounded by the enhanced marginal utility of driving instead, particularly as cars have improved in personal comfort over the decade relative to buses. Once a decline in bus services begins, it all too often feeds on itself as the relative convenience of just jumping in a car becomes ever more pronounced. Against a backdrop of less frequent bus services, passenger utility is reduced even further. With the reduction in demand comes more cuts in supply.

In north Staffordshire, journey times by bus can be more than double those by car—sometimes easily treble or worse—due to the loss of direct cross-city routes. No doubt that story is familiar to Members in all parts of the country. I have raised the situation in north Staffordshire in particular because, as our local newspaper The Sentinel has highlighted, the decline in the Potteries has been much faster than in England as a whole

Currently, very few buses run straight through the city centre, meaning that almost all passengers face waiting times for connecting services at the city centre bus station if they want to get from one side of the city to the other. Operators have been reluctant to provide through services, because it is much harder to guarantee their reliability. That, in turn, adds to the congestion at the city centre bus station, with two short-route buses needed to complete what could have been a single-bus through journey.

The required interventions are a mix of low, medium and high-cost schemes, ranging from relatively simple traffic management measures, such as the widening of bus lanes, to more complicated redesigns of junctions to give buses priority. As an initial step, three cross-city routes are being developed, but a number of additional cross-city routes have also been identified to create a truly north Staffordshire-wide network …

The second key element is improved frequency. A turn-up-and-go service requires a frequency that does not exceed 10 minutes between buses. Even that frequency would be regarded as poor in London. A 10-minute interval is considered to be one of the downsides of some parts of the Docklands Light Railway, and it certainly would not be tolerated on the London underground. Yet in Stoke-on-Trent a 10-minute frequency is exceptionally good; currently, only four bus services operate at that frequency. The frequency of other services is generally 20 or 30 minutes.

Introducing all the proposed cross-city lines with a weekday daytime frequency of at most 10 minutes would cost some £4.8 million per annum. There would be a further capital cost of £1 million for purchasing additional vehicles. It is important to note that in certain important corridors in the city, such as between the railway station and the city centre, frequencies would be much closer to five minutes than to 10 minutes, with the exception of early mornings, night-times and Sundays …

There are other, smaller operators, which run a limited number of services, mostly using buses smaller than the standard single-decker ones prevalent in the First Potteries and D&G fleets. The current operators run a multi-operator ticket scheme. One such ticket is called Smart, which is focused on Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme, and another is called The Knot—after the Staffordshire knot—covering the whole of Staffordshire. There is also a PlusBus scheme covering the Smart zone.

That brings me on to the third key element: the price cap. The current standard adult fare for one of the most popular tickets, the Smart day ticket, is £5.90, and the proposal is to cap it at £3 per day, resulting in a ceteris paribus revenue loss of £3 million per annum. However, it is, of course, expected that all things will not be equal, and the price cap, together with congestion-busting road traffic management for bus services, should result in a substantial increase in ticket sales.

Indeed, the uplift is expected to be such that the city council has warned that operators will need to be prepared for boarding delays caused by the volume of people wanting to buy the £3 day ticket. That would have been much more of a concern only a year ago, when contactless payment was still far from widespread across north Staffordshire buses. Thankfully, operators have now invested in contactless technology that speeds up the boarding process

Let me be quite clear: what is envisioned is nothing short of a revolution for road traffic planning in Stoke-on-Trent, with a radical reordering of highway space and junction prioritisation in favour of buses. By removing the worst pinch points and installing bus priority measures, we can improve passengers’ level of confidence that buses will run smoothly and to time. The measures envisaged would mean that timetables could provide for faster services running over longer distances across north Staffordshire. We would once again be able to boast one of the best and most comprehensive public transport networks, just as we did over a century ago. I hope we will receive the Department’s full support, and the Minister’s support today.

Nusrat Ghani, replying on behalf of the Government, said:

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher [Chope MP], in this incredibly collegiate and productive debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) for securing it and giving me the opportunity to provide some answers that will please both Government and Opposition Members …

When I appeared before the Select Committee on Transport a while ago, my hon. Friend was robust in challenging me on bus strategy. However, he and I wanted the same thing, and we have got it—we have a win here. First, we have had the announcement of an ambitious and innovative £220 million bus package and, secondly, we are putting together the first ever national bus strategy, which will revolutionise bus services across England

Members are keen to ensure that they are doing their bit to secure funding from the transforming cities fund. The Government are investing £2.5 billion to support the development and creation of new and innovative public transport schemes, which will improve journeys and tackle congestion in some of England’s largest cities. Stoke-on-Trent has been shortlisted for an upgrade to its public transport links. The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) was spot on; she put forward a fantastic case. At the Department we welcome the business case put forward by Stoke-on-Trent and supported by hon. Members. It will improve connectivity across the region. I am afraid I cannot say anything more right now, but an announcement on the outcome of the process will be announced in the next few months. The strength of this debate will no doubt be recognised when that decision is made …

Thanks to the Stoke-on-Trent MPs’ pressure, the latest news from the Stoke Sentinel on April 6, 2022 is that bus pass prices will be noticeably cheaper and that some routes will cut across the city:

Stoke-on-Trent bus passengers will be able to snap up all-day tickets for just £3.50 as part of a £31.7 million Government deal for the city. People currently have to shell out £5.20 for unlimited day travel within the city.

The cheaper fare – available across multiple bus operators – is expected to come into force in September. It’s not yet known whether other types of bus tickets could also be discounted.

It comes after the Department for Transport (DfT) awarded Stoke-on-Trent the funding to transform bus services over the next three years. Other plans include having more evening and Sunday services to boost the night-time economy and help commuters get home from work.

And a bus route which was split in two several years ago is to be ‘re-linked’ so people travelling from the north to south of the city no longer have to catch several buses. Coupled with bus priority changes, it will mean quicker journey times.

Nigel Eggleton, managing director of bus operator First Potteries, said: “We are delighted with the announcement. Ourselves, other bus operators and Stoke-on-Trent City Council have put in a lot of work compiling this bid.”

He hopes it will attract more people onto the buses and make some of the changes commercially sustainable after the Government funding runs out. But he admitted there could be ‘anomalies’, particularly if people are travelling outside the city boundaries into Newcastle or the Moorlands.

Staffordshire County Council has not been awarded a single penny through the DfT’s latest announcement, even though it submitted a bid for £112 million of bus service improvements.

Mr Eggleton added: “We will need to look closely at the terms and conditions to see what we can and can’t do across boundary journeys. But we will try our best.”

The 113 comments following the article were highly critical of the bus company and bus routes.

Now on to the Stoke-Leek railway line, debated on July 20, 2021 which was secured by Karen Bradley, the Conservative MP for Staffordshire Moorlands. All three Stoke-on-Trent MPs took part.

Maggie Throup MP, responding for the Government, said:

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) on securing this debate on the proposals for reopening the Stoke-Leek line—or, as she said, the Leek-Stoke line. I thank all Members who contributed. My right hon. Friend is a committed advocate of this scheme, alongside my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) and for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon), who have spoken passionately with one voice in today’s debate. Their collective campaigning to reinstate the Stoke-Leek line is second to none. I am sure the description that my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands gave of her constituency will definitely have put it at the top of the tourist map for those who are listening to the debate. I also pay tribute to all right hon. and hon. Members who have sponsored applications to restore rail lines and stations in their own constituencies. I know just how much these schemes mean for local communities. Those Members are great advocates for the restoration of their railways.

This Government are committed to levelling up the country, and a strong, effective railway is central to that ambition. As part of that levelling-up agenda, in January 2020 the Government pledged £500 million for the Restoring Your Railways programme to deliver on our manifesto commitment to start reopening lines and stations. This investment will reconnect smaller communities, regenerate local economies and improve access to jobs, homes and education. The Beeching report led to the closure of one third of our railway network—2,363 stations and 5,000 miles of track were identified for closure. Many places that lost their railway connection have simply never recovered. For the towns and villages left isolated and forgotten by the Beeching cuts, restoring a railway line or station has the potential to revitalise the community. It breathes new life into our high streets, drives investment in businesses and housing and opens new opportunities for work and education. Ilkeston station, in my constituency, which reopened in 2017 after more than 50 years of closure, is a proven example of this positive impact …

As my right hon. Friend explained, the proposal details the many benefits that restoring the Stoke-Leek line would bring to the area—she was so graphic earlier about all the benefits—including providing residents of Leek with direct access to education and employment opportunities in Stoke-on-Trent and the opening up of Staffordshire Moorlands to the tourist trade. The assessment process for those bids is currently under way. The Department expects to announce outcomes over the summer. Decisions on bids are made by an expert panel, which the rail Minister chairs. It is informed by analysis from the Department for Transport, technical advisers and Network Rail. The standard of the applications is, as ever, very high.

In nearby Meir, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, a proposal to reopen the railway station has already been successful in the ideas fund. This scheme used the funding awarded to create a strategic outline business case, which the Department will be considering soon. If delivered, the scheme would reconnect the people of Meir to the rail network for the first time since 1966, giving them access to new educational and economic opportunities, making new housing developments in certain areas viable and levelling up a region that suffers from poor productivity relative to the rest of the UK …

Beeching destroyed the railway network in the mid-1960s. It will take a long time, if ever, to restore it.

With regard to the Stoke-Leek line, £50,000 was granted on October 27, 2001 for a feasibility study. One can only hope for its success.

No doubt, Jack Brereton will continue to press ahead with these and other local issues with his usual passion and enthusiasm.

I wish him every success in his parliamentary career. He richly deserves it.

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.

Jonathan Gullis, a Red Wall MP who is the first Conservative representing Stoke-on-Trent North, is a larger than life Member of Parliament.

The constituency was created in 1950 and has had Labour MPs from then until December 12, 2019.

Stoke-on-Trent has three constituencies, each of which contain two of the historic six towns of the Potteries; over the centuries, they have given us some of the world’s best ceramics and porcelain.

Over the years, the Potteries have shed many jobs, with the result that the number of registered jobseekers was higher than the national average ten years ago: 5.2% to 3.8%.

However, despite the pandemic, employment has been improving since 2015, as Jonathan Gullis explained in a September 15, 2021 debate on levelling up. Ruth Smeeth was the constituency’s MP in 2015, but the more important change was that the local council control shifted from Labour to Conservative (emphases mine):

I will read out some statistics, because for too long, sadly, Stoke-on-Trent was talked about in a negative light by my predecessors, so I will talk about how great Stoke-on-Trent actually is and what it has been doing under not only a Conservative Government but a Conservative-led city council, led by the fantastic Councillor Abi Brown.

Stoke-on-Trent was ranked first for jobs growth in 2020. Between 2015 and 2018 it saw wages increase by 11.7%, with a 3.9% annual increase. In 2019-20 we built over 1,000 new homes, of which 97% were built on brownfield land. We are the eighth fastest growing economy in England, which includes London. We have created over 8,000 jobs in the last five years. We have the Ceramic Valley enterprise zone, which is one of the most successful enterprise zones in the UK. I am delighted that Tunstall Arrow phase 2 is effectively already under way and bookings are being made. The city council has done a fantastic thing by carrying on the business rates relief, using its own finances to encourage more businesses to come to the area. There is a fantastic story here for Stoke-on-Trent.

I am very sorry to get into the petty party politics, as some people might accuse us of, but I do so because when the Labour party lost Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, it was because it spent too long talking the area down and never talked it up. It spent too long telling people how poor they were and how deprived they were, but never offering a solution to the problem. In fact, Labour’s legacy in Stoke-on-Trent was to build a hospital—the Royal Stoke University Hospital—with a disastrous private finance initiative debt, which means £20 million a year is being stolen from the frontline to pay that debt. Labour built a hospital with 200 fewer beds than the old hospital, which is even more insane.

We saw jobs and ceramics enterprises being shipped off to China, which means I am very grateful still to have Churchill China, Steelite International and Burleigh Pottery in my constituency. They are still doing well, but sadly that industry dying meant that towns such as Burslem and Tunstall, two of the five original towns of Stoke-on-Trent, are now in a much worse state. Those places were forgotten, because for 70 years they had Labour Members of Parliament.

I am the first ever Conservative Member of Parliament for my constituency. What has happened over time, as we have seen that transition from Labour to the Conservatives, is that things are now happening. By the way, that does not mean that I do not acknowledge that there are challenges in Stoke-on-Trent. As I say, the mother town of Burslem has one of the highest number of closed shops anywhere in the United Kingdom. The town used to thrive off Royal Doulton and many other Pot Bank factories, but now that is simply not the case. I am trying to find a future for that town. I was delighted to have spent my summer handing out a survey asking residents for their views—over 300 responses have come in—and I am working with the city council to create a vision, perhaps for an arts and creative culture that will link in with Middleport Pottery.

In Tunstall, the high street is predominantly privately owned. I know that because I rent my constituency office on that high street—it is in an old shop. The top end of the high street is falling into disrepair, but I am delighted that the city council is working with me to hold private landlords to account for allowing their shops to fall into disrepair.

However, to offer the Minister more evidence of levelling up, it is the Conservative-led Stoke-on-Trent City Council that has invested £4 million into Longton town hall, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), and it is spending over £4 million on Tunstall town hall in my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. That will see council offices, a police post, a children’s centre and much more bringing this heritage building back to life, which will bring more footfall to the town centre and hopefully see it rejuvenate.

There is so much more opportunity. I fell in love with the city back in 2018, when I first started campaigning there, because I saw what others did not, which is a people who were desperate for change but just needed someone to go and fight for them. I am absolutely delighted to be their champion, as I have said many times.

I know that we have just heard some hon. Members talk about the town deal fund. I am a member of Kidsgrove’s town deal board. It is important to remember that these towns got this money before I was even elected as a Member of Parliament, but it was a Conservative Government who decided that the town of Kidsgrove, which is linked with Talke and Newchapel, would benefit from a town deal fund that, in total and including the advance town deal payment, came to £17.6 million. I can tell Members that when I go out door-knocking in Kidsgrove, the people there cannot believe what that money has done.

We have invested £2.75 million in Kidsgrove sports centre, which means that this facility will reopen in spring 2022. Rather than building a new one at higher expense to the taxpayer, the existing one will be refurbished and reopenedIn 2017, the then Labour-run Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council was offered the sports centre for £1, and it said no. There was a fantastic, community-run campaign led by Mark Clews, Dave Rigby, Ray Williams and Councillor Gill Burnett, who was a Labour councillor but has since become a Conservative over the decision on the sports centre. They got the borough council behind it, and they certainly got me behind it. Ultimately, we will see that facility reopened, which means swimming and a gym will return to Kidsgrove, which has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the country.

Gullis gave several more examples of improvements to the local area then returned to the sports centre:

This is what a town deal has done for my area, and I am proud to be part of it. I will benefit from the fact that the swimming pool exists—as a Kidsgrove parish resident, my daughter, who is just over a year old, will be able to learn to swim in her local swimming facility. Every pound invested by the community into that sports centre is going straight back into it, because the community group that ran the campaign are taking over the day-to-day running of that fabulous facility.

Several hundred civil service jobs will also be coming to Stoke-on-Trent. Having a voice in government was a factor in Stoke-on-Trent voting for Brexit in 2016:

… under the Places for Growth programme, 550 jobs are coming to Stoke-on-Trent via the Home Office. A new innovation centre will provide jobs at all career stages, including apprenticeships to help Stokies get into great civil service careers. Initially, there will be 50 caseworker roles, with a further 200 jobs at an asylum co-ordination hub, and that will expand to about 560 jobs by 2025. In addition to the caseworker roles, the centre will include operational, IT, policy and corporate functions, and will offer exciting career paths to local people. There will also be a number of senior civil service roles in Stoke-on-Trent, meaning that the people there will have a voice in Government. If anyone wants to understand why the people of Stoke-on-Trent voted overwhelmingly to leave—by 73%, in my constituency—it is because they thought that if London did not care about them, then Brussels would not have a bloody clue about their local area. That is why we are finally seeing a big change there.

What can the Government continue to do? The shopping list has not ended unfortunately, Minister. Stoke has had an appetiser and a bit of a main course, but we are still hungry for more, and dessert will come in the form of the levelling-up fund bid that we have submitted. We are lucky to be rated as a grade 1 priority area. We thank the Government for listening to our calls and understanding the deprivation.

He was aware of having a strong link between an MP and local government. Furthermore, he realised that local votes had been lent to him in 2019:

the relationship between the local council and the local MP is so important, because if we end up butting heads nothing will happen. That is not benefiting the people who have elected us to serve them.

I take the fact that those votes will end. I do not sit here arrogantly; they were lent votes, and if I do not deliver, I will be sacked. Every single one of my constituents is a Lord Sugar, so they will hire me or fire me. I take that responsibility absolutely seriously. I say on every doorstep that I do. That is why I do not stop banging on about my local area. That is why the Minister must be bored to death of hearing about Stoke-on-Trent from me and my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) and for Stoke-on-Trent South—the Stoke mafia, as we have come to be known in the Tea Room. We will keep fighting for our local area. Councillor Abi Brown is a tour de force—a young, dynamic, forward-thinking council leader paving the way, and now having a major role in the Local Government Association as well.

Let us go over the levelling-up fund bid, which for me is a litmus test of the Government’s commitment. It is a £73.5 million bid. Some £3.5 million will go into Tunstall, which will turn an old library and swimming baths back into a mixed-use facility, including flats, a multi-purpose exhibition space and a café. It will turn one of the largest city centre regeneration areas in the West Midlands into a thriving hotel, flat accommodation and hopefully indoor arena that will specialise in e-sports. There is so much potential in those fantastic bids, which are in with the Treasury. I know that the Minister wants to make my Christmas. One way that she can achieve that is by ensuring that we deliver on those bids. We have bid for the transport elements as well.

We have also bid on the Stoke-to-Leek line through the Restoring your Railway fund. It is a fantastic bid, with four constituency MPs bidding for it jointly. It will unlock people being able to commute around north Staffordshire, meaning that we finally have better transport. I hope that, alongside rail, we will get some Bus Back Better opportunities, because 30% of the people of Stoke-on-Trent do not have access to a car, and the current bus service is not good enough.

Jonathan Gullis is also concerned about immigration, because Stoke-on-Trent takes in many immigrants. They are fifth on the list of areas taking in the most.

In a March 22, 2022 debate on the Nationality and Borders Bill, he rightly had an issue with Labour’s approach to immigration:

I am getting rather confused. The Labour party seems to be saying that we should not remove pull factors that mean that people are willing to risk their lives crossing the English channel and put money into the hands of the people smugglers. What has happened to the Labour party? Back in 2004, Baroness Scotland, a Labour Minister, said that

“a person should seek protection in the first safe country where they have the chance to do so.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 April 2004; Vol. 659, c. 1684.]

What happened to that Labour party?

Later in the debate, he took on Stuart C McDonald, an SNP MP, about illegal immigration:

We both served on the Bill Committee but we seem to have a very different recollection. George Brandis, the Australian high commissioner, talked about a three-part effect, with push-back, offshoring and deterring by having tougher sanctions for those who enter illegally all having worked in tandem with one another to deter people from making the journey. That is unlike what the hon. Gentleman is trying to portray, which is that one silver bullet was the magic answer—it simply was not. It is just a shame that only two local authorities in the entirety of Scotland take part in the asylum dispersal scheme, unlike Stoke-on-Trent, which is the fifth largest contributor.

Stuart C McDonald replied:

Conservative Members can continue to try to upset local authorities in Scotland and achieve absolutely nothing in doing so, but on the more substantive—

Gullis was insistent:

It is fact—[Interruption.]

McDonald went on before Gullis had another chance to intervene:

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way after mentioning Stoke-on-Trent. The leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council is annoyed about the asylum dispersal scheme because only a third of local authorities are currently part of it. The council is asking for other areas—such as the 30-plus local authority areas in Scotland—to step up and do their bit because our city of Stoke-on-Trent is now at the one in 200 threshold in terms of refugee versus local citizen. Instead of attacking Stoke-on-Trent City Council with some vague quote, let us get into the facts of the matter. If Scotland stepped up to the plate and did its bit, Stoke-on-Trent would not have to carry the burden for the rest of the country.

McDonald said that Scotland was awaiting Government funding to do so. Hmm.

Gullis returned to criticising Labour and the SNP later on. I saw the debate. The bit about ‘wokerati’ below, referencing the metropolitan elite, was a classic:

Let us be very clear. Currently, illegal economic migrants are entering this country across the English channel from a safe mainland European country, France. That situation is totally unacceptable to the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, because they believe in fairness and they believe in doing things by the book.

People with a legitimate claim to come to our country to escape persecution and flee for their lives are being put at the bottom of the list because of people who are illegally entering our country via small boats—and what do the Opposition parties think? They support the Lords amendments, which would simply make it even easier for people to try to come across the channel, making a dangerous journey, risking their lives and putting money into the hands of criminal gangs. Let us not forget that 70% of the individuals who are currently making that channel crossing are men, predominantly single men in their 20s and 30s. Let us not forget that it is women and children who are most at risk: they are being left at home, where they are being persecuted.

The Labour party thinks that people in places like Stoke-on-Trent are racist because 73% voted for Brexit. It thinks that they are thick and uncompassionate, despite the fact that we are the fifth largest contributor to the asylum dispersal scheme in our United Kingdom.

That is why Stoke-on-Trent kicked Labour out, and why the people there will not want it back any time soon. Labour does not understand that when people voted for this Government and elected, for the first time ever, a Conservative Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent, North Kidsgrove and Talke, they did so because they wanted to take back control—which is what they did in 2016 when they voted for Brexit. The out-of-touch wokerati on the Opposition Benches are constantly obsessed with being popular with Twitter and Londoners, so this does not surprise me one bit.

As for the Scottish National party, only one Scottish local authority takes part in the asylum dispersal scheme. To be fair, it is Glasgow, the largest contributor to the scheme. Despite the pontificating, the grandstanding and the virtue-signalling, the fact is that the SNP does not stand up and help out as it should. It is about time that Scotland did its bit, went out and signed up. The Minister is on the Front Bench: let SNP Members go and sign the paperwork with him, and let us get refugees into local authority areas in Scotland. Stoke-on-Trent is doing its bit. It is about time that others, whether in the north Islington coffee bar elites or the Scottish National party-run local authorities, did their bit as well.

Gullis is an active contributor in parliamentary debates, but his ten-minute maiden speech on January 14, 2020 was a veritable tour de force. He was surrounded by many other new Red Wall MPs when he delivered it:

We discovered that the now 32-year-old taught school for several years before entering politics; he taught religious education. He believes that a good education is the best pathway towards social mobility.

He clearly loves Stoke-on-Trent:

“Ay Up Duck” is how I should start, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) will be happy with my pronunciation.

May I start by saying what an honour and a privilege it is to make my maiden speech today, and to represent the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke? I could not be prouder to serve and, as I said to the Stoke Sentinel at 5.30 in the morning of election night, I will “work my bum off” to deliver the change that my constituents deserve.

I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Ruth Smeeth. She will be remembered as a tireless campaigner for our armed forces, against holiday hunger and fighting antisemitism. The abuse that she has suffered as a result of her Jewish heritage is a disgrace. I know she will continue in her work to combat antisemitism and all other forms of racism, and she can count on me to stand shoulder to shoulder with her on such issues.

As a teacher, a school trade union representative and a Tory, I realise I am not the typical stereotype, and I could not think of a more fitting debate in which to make my maiden speech. Education is by far the most powerful tool we have to improve social mobility. In my own family, I have seen this at first hand. My mother, who joins me in the Gallery today, got into a grammar school off the estate in London. My father, having failed his O-levels, took up work as a caretaker to attend night school, ending up at Durham University with a Masters. The hard work, resilience and determination of my parents has allowed them to achieve more than what many, and indeed they themselves, would have anticipated had they been confined to the lazy stereotypes placed upon them. Teachers serve the young people they educate outside the bounds of academia, often assuming the role of mentor, providing intellectual and emotional support. For most of us there is that one stand-out teacher who changed the way we think and made a difference to our lives. The teacher who inspired me is Dr Simon Peaple. He was the head of history and politics at my school. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), who cannot be here, will know him well, because he is now the leader of the Labour group on Tamworth Borough Council. His teaching was so effective that, despite him coming to campaign for my predecessor, I was able to make it on to the Green Benches today. But, in all seriousness, his dedication to his students, extensive subject knowledge and passion for the job stuck with me, and I would like to thank him for all that he did.

Getting education right across Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke is crucial. In 2018 the progress 8 scores showed a majority of children underachieving and only 1% of students getting AAB at A-level compared with 12% across the rest of the West Midlands. However, signs of improvement are beginning to show: today, over 80% of schools are rated good or outstanding, and 2019 GCSE results showed a 6% increase in the pass rate for English and maths across the city of Stoke-on-Trent. And with the Government’s support via the Stoke-on-Trent opportunity area, more breakfast clubs and a 4.7% increase in per pupil funding, the city is on the up.

I say the city is on the up because for too long it has been perceived negatively. Football pundits talk about whether players can perform on a cold Tuesday night in Stoke-on-Trent and last week Piers Morgan wondered whether the Duchess of Sussex would ever want to face opening a community hall on a wet Wednesday in Stoke. In addition, the town of Kidsgrove has been passed from pillar to post in Boundary Commission changes and is now being nicknamed the forgotten town. Well, I say that Stoke-on-Trent is a city to be proud of, Kidsgrove will no longer be forgotten, and it is time that we started talking about Talke—a bit of cheese.

If Members are looking for somewhere to spend their next bank holiday weekend, they need look no further. After enjoying a cheesy Staffordshire oatcake they can make their way to the mother town of Burslem, birthplace of Lemmy from Motörhead, 16-time world dart champion Phil “the Power” Taylor and Robbie Williams. They can also go for a walk around the award-winning park or pop down to Vale Park and see Port Vale FC play, or see local businesses such as Synectics Solutions, Titanic Brewery and Autonet, which together employ thousands of local residents.

Burslem was the heartbeat of this city and hosts its ceramic industry from Royal Stafford to Moorcroft. In neighbouring Middleport we can see Steelite and go on a tour of Middleport Pottery. The place is home to “The Great Pottery Throw Down” on Channel 4 and was used for filming on the TV series “Peaky Blinders”.

Next, we can visit another of the original six towns, Tunstall, where we will soon be able to visit the newly refurbished town hall, go shopping at the indoor market and see another ceramics giant in Churchill China.

We can then make our way to Kidsgrove and Talke. Here we can walk along the beautiful Trent and Mersey canal to see the Harecastle tunnel; at one and a half miles long it was once the longest in the country, responsible for taking the coal to the kilns. We can also see the site of the old sports centre, which, thanks to the efforts of Kidsgrove sports centre community group and the Conservative-led Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, will be refurbished and reopened next summer so it can retain its place as a key community asset.

It is said that World War Two was won in the skies, as alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes), thanks to a little plane called the Spitfire. In Talke my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh can visit the Reginald Mitchell peace garden, named after the Spitfire inventor and yards from where he was born. Reginald Mitchell is heavily celebrated across the Potteries and in 2003 was voted the greatest Midlander in the BBC’s online TV and radio vote.

Lastly, we have Chatterley Whitfield colliery. It is one of the most complete former colliery sites in Europe and has been designated a scheduled ancient monument. It was the first colliery in the country to achieve an annual output of 1 million tonnes, which was achieved in 1937 and again in 1939. The colliery ceased production and closed its doors on working miners in March 1977. The hard work undertaken by the Friends of Chatterley Whitfield has seen some buildings brought back to use, sell-out tours on heritage weekends and important documents saved. However, this important piece of heritage is still at risk of being lost. The potbanks would not have fired if it were not for the coal brought from the deep mines at Chatterley Whitfield. The Potteries would not have existed. I made it a central pledge in my campaign to protect and preserve the site with a long-term plan. The loss of such a site would mean that future generations could be denied an invaluable opportunity to learn about their past. I will not stand by and let that happen.

Talking up an area is very important, but it is crucial to acknowledge the challenges we face. We need more school places, better public transport and to bring more high-skilled, high-wage jobs to Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke. We must invest in the city by opening up free schools to offer more parental choice. We must reverse some of the Beeching cuts by opening up the old mineral line and ensure the city of Stoke-on-Trent becomes the core of the tech revolution. Silicon Stoke is an ambition to put this city at the centre of future skills and jobs. We are rated as having some of the best 4G download speeds in the country and we are leading the way by rolling out 60 miles of full fibre broadband across the city, thanks to Swedish firm VX Fiber and this Government’s investment of over £9 million. According to council officers, that could generate a £625 million boost to the Stoke-on-Trent economy, meaning more jobs and higher wages.

Stoke-on-Trent, one of the great cities of the industrial revolution, knows what it means to be at the centre of the country’s economy. I wish to see the city reignited at the heart of the coming technological revolution. One of my roles as a Member of Parliament is to represent the people, the place and the history of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. I will pursue relentlessly the potential and ambition of my constituency, and I will shout at every turn about how amazing the city is and the opportunities it possesses. Make no mistake: we are on the up.

However, Gullis struggles with mental health issues. Negative emotions from his formative years, including suicidal thoughts, still haunt him, as he told the Stoke Sentinel in March 2020 — ‘I self-harmed after bullying’:

He fought and won an election campaign set against the most toxic atmosphere in modern political history – yet behind the mask Jonathan Gullis still has days when he wishes he was dead.

Jonathan, Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, suffered relentless bullying as a teenager, to such an extent that he used to self-harm.

At his lowest point he even mapped out a plan to take his own life in a way which would mean his family were spared the trauma of seeing his body.

Now Jonathan says he has been inspired to speak out after reading about others who have told their stories as part of StokeonTrentLive’s mental health and suicide prevention campaign.

Jonathan, a former teacher who was elected to Parliament in December, said: “I always thought that if I did share my experiences, it would be at a time when I was in a position of influence, and hopefully that would make other people feel more confident.

“I went to see a psychiatrist at the age of 14.

“I had been having a very difficult time at school. My whole identity – or my alleged identity – was attacked.

“I had held back a lot of grief over my grandmother, who passed away when I was aged eight. I had not processed it to the point that I was extremely angry at the world, I was lashing out at my peers and my family.

“Other days I was crying and self-harming. I used to cut myself and hide it from my parents and keep it hidden when I played rugby.

“Children can be cruel and I had years and years of bullying. It was name calling …

“At 14, I had taken knock after knock and one day I completely lost my temper.

“My brother said something similar to what I was being called at school and I completely lost it and held a knife to him.

“My mum came in and shouted at me and I completely broke down in tears and told her how I hated what I was going through and how my identity was attacked.

“You can imagine how sorry I am to my brother to this day. To lose it so much that I reached that point of anger.”

Jonathan began speaking regularly about his difficulties to his school chaplain and then received professional help. He was taught some coping strategies, but it wasn’t until leaving school and going to university that he was able to ‘reinvent himself’.

After graduating from university, Jonathan then began a successful teaching career.

He became head of year at his school in Birmingham, responsible for the behaviour and well-being of more than 250 students.

He also became a trade union representative for NASUWT before getting into politics.

Yet he still battles with his mental health to this day.

“There are still days when I feel disconnected and a lack of energy and just down. I get very frustrated at myself,” said Jonathan.

“To meet me, you would think I am very self-confident, but it is just a mask. I’m the most insecure person. I worry about everything, whether my family are happy, whether I’m doing a good job for my constituents.

“Some days I hate myself. I hate looking in a mirror and I hate how I feel inside.

“The last time I self-harmed was in September 2019.

“My depression got really bad around 2015/16. I went on medication, but it made me feel worse.

“I kept thinking about whether to kill myself and how I could do it without upsetting my family. How I could do it so they didn’t see the body.

“There are some lovely country walks where I was living before I was selected. There was a particular spot I found. I remember thinking I could telephone the police and then leave a note just saying I’m really sorry.

“It’s horrible. I hate waking up feeling trapped in my own head. It breaks my heart to say it, but sometimes I have wished I wouldn’t wake up.

“I still think that now, occasionally. But I think how my dad would feel and how it would affect my family and loved ones – I couldn’t put them through that.

“My parents are aware that I struggle, but I don’t think they are aware of how bad it is.”

The article says that three out of four MPs suffer mental health problems. Hmm:

A study carried out last year – before Jonathan was elected to Parliament – found that three out of four MPs suffer from poor mental health.

The analysis found that long hours, the stress and isolation of the job, coupled with constant criticism and even personal abuse on social media, meant that MPs are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than people in many other professions.

Gullis feels under a lot of pressure to succeed:

He said: “Being an MP is isolating and there is massive pressure to deliver for my constituents.

“I love my job and the fact I have been given this opportunity. There is no-one more fearful than me of not delivering.

“I question every day whether I have done a good job. I’m terrified of being a failure because I have had so much trust put in me.

“I’m lucky that my family and loved ones are around me.

“When I get hate on social media, I try to see it as a joke. I try to see the funny side …

“I have fallen in love with this area and I want to make a difference so badly. I set such high standards and expectations on myself and my staff.”

I have never read such honest testimony from a public figure about such a sensitive issue.

He is divorced but has a daughter with his current partner, Nikita.

Easter recess has begun. I hope that he gets time to relax a bit and enjoy his family.

In any event, I wish Jonathan Gullis the greatest of success as an MP. He deserves it.

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? If you wish to borrow, 1) please use the link from the post, 2) give credit to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 3) copy only selected paragraphs from the post — not all of it.
PLAGIARISERS will be named and shamed.
First case: June 2-3, 2011 — resolved

Creative Commons License
Churchmouse Campanologist by Churchmouse is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://churchmousec.wordpress.com/.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,545 other subscribers

Archive

Calendar of posts

December 2022
S M T W T F S
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031

http://martinscriblerus.com/

Bloglisting.net - The internets fastest growing blog directory
Powered by WebRing.
This site is a member of WebRing.
To browse visit Here.

Blog Stats

  • 1,695,209 hits