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Stockport’s Radical History

Newly-elected MP Nav Mishra delivers his maiden speech on the radical history of Stockport – from Friedrich Engels to the suffragettes and the town's contribution to the fight for democracy at Peterloo.

It is the greatest honour imaginable to serve the people of Stockport. I am indebted to the residents of my constituency for believing in me and for giving me their support at the ballot box. I am also grateful to my family for their love and encouragement over the years, without which I would never have been able to stand as a candidate.

My predecessor, Ann Coffey, served Stockport from 1992 to 2019. Her work in the all-party parliamentary group on runaway and missing children and adults is admired on both sides of this House. As a former social worker, she campaigned tirelessly against child sexual exploitation, and her work on this very important subject has left a lasting legacy for the better. I wish her luck with her future endeavours. I would also like to thank Andrew Bennett, the former Member for Stockport North and then for the neighbouring Denton and Reddish seat. Andrew was a source of great advice and inspiration during the general election campaign.

If the House will indulge me, I would like to mention another fellow Stopfordian: Samuel Perry, who attempted unsuccessfully to become the MP for Stockport and was subsequently elected as the Labour and Co-operative member for Kettering. Samuel is famous for his work as national secretary of the Co-operative Party and as the father of another famous Stockfordian — Fred Perry, the Wimbledon champion and founder of the iconic clothing brand.

I am incredibly grateful to my election agent, Mr Chris Gleeson, and all those in Stockport Labour party for the hundreds of — often unsocial — hours that they dedicated to my campaign. In the Labour movement, we believe in the collective, and I am very lucky to have such a hard-working and dedicated team around me.

My constituency of Stockport is a beautiful part of the world, and, in my unbiased opinion, the jewel in the crown of our beloved North West region. It has many iconic buildings and structures — and, of course, some of the warmest people in the world. Many people know Stockport because of our train station and the famous Stockport viaduct. At the time of its construction, it was the world’s largest viaduct and a major feat of Victorian engineering, and it is, to this day, one of the world’s biggest brick structures, with around 11 million bricks. It is an iconic feature of the Stockport skyline, and has inspired authors and artists alike. L. S. Lowry seems to have been haunted by the viaduct; it features in several of his works from the ’50s and ’60s. The paintings and drawings evoke a thriving, if grimy, industrial town.

Author and theorist Friedrich Engels described the viaduct in his book The Condition of the Working Class in England. Although many across the globe admire Engels’ political analysis, I do not share in his bleak and unflattering description of Stockport. In 1844, Engels wrote:

Stockport is renowned throughout the entire district as one of the duskiest, smokiest holes, and looks, indeed, especially when viewed from the viaduct, excessively repellent.

I am glad to report that, while Engels’ analysis of the capitalist exploitation of working people remains true today, his words about Stockport do not. These days, the smoke-belching chimneys are a thing of the past. In recent years, Stockport has had the fastest-growing economy in the North West, with relatively high-value jobs. It is a brilliant place to live and to represent. The historic town centre, featured on film and TV, is a great place to be, especially if it is Foodie Friday.

Stockport is a varied and diverse place to live, but like many similar working communities across the UK, it is a tale of two towns: the haves and the have-nots. If you live in Heatons South, you can expect to live a lot longer than if you live where I live, in Brinnington and Central — 10 years longer if you are a man, and eight if you are ​a woman. And it is not just how long you live; your chances of living with serious illness also vary enormously across the constituency.

Our town has a proud 400-year-old hat-making heritage. I was delighted to learn from my Honourable Friend the member for Luton South [Rachel Hopkins] about the history of hat making in her constituency, but I am pleased to share that Stockport’s Hat Works is the only dedicated hat museum in the UK.

Although Stockport trumps Luton in terms of hat museums, both our local football teams are known as the Hatters. Recent performances in the national league give us hope that we will soon be returning to the football league. My local football team, Stockport County, was founded in 1883 as the Heaton Norris Rovers, and changed its name in 1890. The club has a long history that includes the wonderful seasons in the early ’90s when it was managed by the revered Uruguayan Danny Bergara. I have made a commitment to help promote our local club and look forward to working with the fans and the new owner in the coming years.

Stockport is a vibrant market town with a lively town centre. We have a thriving civic society, and our people take great pride in their community. It is those people working and volunteering in our third sector who are the backbone of our community. We have some excellent local organisations that support people from across the North West, and I want to use my maiden speech as an opportunity to highlight just a few of them.

I have been lucky enough to visit the Wellspring centre several times and see the work they do. Over the years, they have helped over 1,500 rough sleepers into accommodation. Their annual rucksack appeal helps people in need with warm clothes, food and other essentials in the winter. Jonathan and his team of staff and volunteers inspire me every day, working hard to support some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

I have also had the wonderful opportunity to visit Smart Works in my constituency, a registered charity that supports women with interview preparation and professional clothing. I met some of the staff and volunteers based in Stockport, and I was pleased to learn about the number of women who have had support over the years. The appalling rise in inequality and poverty is illustrated by the alarming increase in the use of food banks in my constituency.

One of my main priorities for my constituency is housing. All those years ago, the poor quality of housing impressed itself on Engels. These days, the situation is different, but the legacy of the right-to-buy policy, and demographic and financial changes, have resulted in huge pressures on housing in Stockport. We need to make sure that Stopfordians do not get priced out of living and thriving in our town. I want to ensure that high numbers of good-quality social and affordable homes are built in Stockport.

Another important pledge in my campaign was bringing high-quality green jobs into Stockport, to make sure that people have access to good jobs locally, rather than having to travel long distances for work. Improving public transport is also an issue close to my heart. We need reliable, affordable and frequent bus services, as ​well as the Metrolink tram brought back into our town. The leader of Stockport Council, Elise Wilson, is a long-standing campaigner for better public transport, and I look forward to working with her to ensure that this issue gets the priority it deserves.

This weekend was International Women’s Day, so it would be remiss of me not to mention Suffragette Square in Stockport, which was named to commemorate four important women in Stockport’s history: Gertrude Powicke, Elsie Plant and Hannah Winbolt were Stopfordian women who were all active in the suffrage movement, and Elizabeth Raffald was a pioneering Stopfordian from the 1700s. Another woman who has inspired me is Jayaben Desai, of Indian heritage, who famously led the Grunwick dispute of mostly women workers, which was a landmark strike in the fight for fairness and equality in Britain.

Stockport and the North West have a proud history of radicalism and protest — whether it was the Chartists, who fought for working-class rights and influence; the suffragettes, who campaigned for women’s right to vote; the Kinder Scout mass trespass, which helped to establish the right to ramble; or those who marched for democratic rights at St Peter’s field and were slaughtered at the Peterloo massacre. People often think of Byron or Shelley when they think of poetic accounts of Peterloo, but Samuel Bamford was at St Peter’s field on that bloody day and captured the struggle of ordinary Stopfordians in his 1816 poem The Fray of Stockport.

The brave workers at the Roberts Arundel engineering works in Stockport fought for the right to organise against poverty wages and an oppressive employer. The Roberts Arundel dispute started as a local strike involving 145 workers, but became a dispute of national significance as millions of workers threatened a concerted solidarity strike across the north-west. Hugh Scanlon, the late president of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, said that

The Roberts Arundel dispute in Stockport had a small and seemingly ‘parochial’ beginning, yet exploded into an issue that had great repercussions for the Labour movement nationally and internationally.

I would like to pay tribute to the late, great AEU Stockport district secretary John Tocher, who fought on behalf of workers in my constituency all those years ago, and his comrade David Heywood, who continues to be a source of advice and inspiration.

As socialists and representatives of the trade union and labour movement, we stand on the shoulders of giants. One such giant was my dear friend and Salford councillor John Ferguson, who would be delighted to see me in this place making my maiden speech. Sadly, he passed away just before the election. John was a giant of North West Labour politics and a lifelong trade unionist, and he always had the wisest of words to offer when the going got tough.

Personally, I owe so much to the trade union movement, which has supported me throughout my working life. From courses on workplace representation to political education, my union Unite has always stood with me. In fact, my maternal grandfather, Mr Awadhesh Pandey, was involved in the All India Railwaymen’s Federation, and active in the 1974 national railway strike, standing up for better pay and conditions for his fellow workers. I hope to do justice to my grandfather’s memory by standing up against exploitation. The history of our ​movement shows us that we can achieve so much when we stand up collectively to fight for what is right and just. We owe so much to the social movements that won us fundamental rights. Yet, unfortunately, the injustices, inequalities and exploitation that inspired these movements remain.

Public services in Stockport have been decimated by a decade of government cuts and brutal austerity. Over £100 million has been stripped from our council’s budget. Our local NHS trust has been underfunded by £170 million, and there is an £8 million funding shortfall in our schools. Austerity was not inevitable; it was a deliberate choice by the political elite to make ordinary working-class people pay the price for an economic crisis they did not create. As Stockport’s new MP, I stand with these ordinary working people. I vow to continue our town’s proud tradition of radicalism and protest, and to stand up for hope, equality and justice. Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you for allowing me to make my maiden speech.