Maiden Speech by Bob Seely MP

Bob Seely made his Maiden Speech on the evening of Monday 3rd July 2017

I want to say what a great privilege it is to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling), but such was the brilliance of his speech that my heart rather sank.

I am genuinely humbled by listening to some of the wonderful speeches including those by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith) and my hon. Friends the Members for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) and for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), who really brought home why we are in this place; we listened in silence, and I thank him.

I think I am going to support this Bill, although I have to say that any Bill relating to tourism that encourages anyone to go anywhere other than the Isle of Wight seems to suffer from what our philosophical Front Bench would call an a priori flaw. However, my constituents are as generous as they are understanding, and I am sure that they would allow me to support this otherwise very sensible Bill.

I also want to pay tribute to my predecessor. Andrew Turner was a kind man, a good listener, attentive to his constituents and held in very high regard by many of them. He worked hard for our island for 16 years and I wish him a long, contented and happy retirement.

Representing the Isle of Wight—we call it the island, and I apologise if I refer to it as such—is for me a labour of love. It is my patch of England. I have loved it ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper, and it is close to my heart.

It also has a special place in the nation’s heart, serving as a source of inspiration for islanders, visitors and our nation’s greatest artists. Turner’s first great work was for the Royal Academy: “Fishermen at sea” in the Solent, with the Needles as a moonlit backdrop. The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson settled here, and we hear our sounds and understand our sense of place in his work. When we listen to the seawater today rushing off the stones at Alum Bay, we understand the line in “Maud”:

“Now to the scream of a maddened beach dragged down by the wave”.

Swinburne and Keats wrote here:

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever”,

from “Endymion” is one of Keats’s greatest lines, and was inspired by visits to Shanklin and Carisbrooke. The wonderful eccentric Edward Lear tutored Queen Victoria at Osborne, the Bonchurch watercolourists painted near Ventnor, Julia Margaret Cameron, the wonderful feminist, pioneered portrait photography at Dimbola Lodge, and the Pre-Raphaelites hung out in Freshwater. And today we remain a home for many island artists, as well as cultural and sporting events of world renown.​

We have a special place in science, too. We had the world’s first telegraph station, the hovercraft and the seaplane were built here, and the Blue Streak missile system—what a great name for a missile system—was test-fired from the Needles. And today the island’s experts produce some of the most sophisticated radars in the world for the Royal Navy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) eloquently assured us a fortnight ago that he was still thrusting. I am sure of it, but let me remind the House that our Thrust 2 jet-engined supercar, built largely on the island, won and held the world land speed record for our nation for over a decade, at some 633 mph. So on the Isle of Wight, even our thrusting is world class.

Moving from science to pseudo-science, Karl Marx was a regular visitor, a point I might have to make should the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) ever come to power—although if the victory last month was any harbinger of the future, let us wish Opposition Members many more such victories in the years to come.

On a more serious note, I mentioned our arts and science not to provide a potted history lesson or to express my love for my constituency—which I hope is self-evident—but because they are what we need for our future. We need again to embrace art, science, technology, innovation and education to inspire, to enrich and to employ. Our island is special in many ways, but our wealth has not always been of the financial kind and there is a perception that Whitehall sometimes overlooks us. In the 1990s, the Government promised the Isle of Wight and the Scilly Isles that they would study the extra costs of being an island. Sadly, that promise came to nothing, but those costs are recognised in Scotland through the special islands needs allowance, which provides an uplift in funding for some half a dozen councils with island seats. I believe that we need a better deal for our island, and it is not just a question of money, although every little helps and I will fight for extra spending on health and education. It is about islanders working with the Government to generate ideas for the public good, and about the Government working with us and being keen to listen. I know that there are good examples of that happening, and I wish to encourage more of it.

We need to embrace the knowledge economy and higher education. I look forward to working with the Department for Education and with universities to provide opportunities for such engagement. We need to continue to drive all education standards on the island, and I will continue to fight for the future of the Sandown Bay school. I look forward to the Government’s continuing support.

Our cultural offer is getting stronger. We have the wonderful Isle of Wight festival—I think Rod Stewart topped the bill this year, as part of a tartan revival that is clearly taking place in politics as well. We also have the wonderful literary festival and the cutting-edge Ventnor fringe festival—look out, Edinburgh! However, I wish to work with Culture Ministers and institutions to find out how they can help us to improve our museum offer and possibly attract a major gallery to the island, to help with year-round cultural tourism.

I look forward to engaging with Sport England and with trade and investment Departments to work with our high-tech sailing industry and with the sailing clubs of Cowes and others to ensure that the town of Cowes ​remains the centre of the sailing world. I also hope that it becomes a global centre for disabled sailing. That would be an important move that would have practical and moral implications. I was privileged last month to meet the captain of our national blind sailing team, who were prepping for their world championships, and I wish Lucy and her inspiring team all the very best.

We need to work with the Department for Work and Pensions, and organisations such as Help the Aged and our wonderful Mountbatten hospice, to make the island a national leader in ensuring quality of life for those in later life, combining health and social care and voluntary and state support to enrich life.

In transport, we need to ensure the future of the Island railway line and improve our cycling routes to make us Britain’s leading cycling destination. We also need to engage with the ferry firms to provide a better service. Let me be clear: privatisation did a great deal of good in the ’80s and ’90s nationally, but the privatisation of our ferries was not such a great success. I do not have all the answers, but I know that we should not have started from that point. I am uncomfortable with the levels of debt that Red Funnel and Wightlink have, because islanders—who are not the richest people in the country—have to help to subsidise it in order to cross the Solent.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to social housing and starter housing from the bottom of my heart. I find it difficult to explain to my fellow islanders why rich property developers were able to build houses there that most of my constituents could not afford. We do not need large-scale projects, which are heartily disliked by many islanders. They do significant cumulative damage to our precious landscape, on which much of our tourism—which accounts for half our economy—depends. We do, however, need genuinely affordable projects to provide homes for islanders, and we will work with the Government to build them. Our island plan should reflect that. For my islanders, housing is hope, especially for the younger ones. Working with many others—our chamber of commerce, our council, our excellent tourism team, voluntary groups and individuals—we will present ideas for a brighter future for our island.

Nationally, this Government have laudable aims of social justice, hope, meritocracy and opportunity for all, values which were inherent in manifestos and are absolutely inherent in our hearts, but we sadly failed to translate them during the campaign. I want those principles, aims, values and aspirations for my fellow islanders and for our nation. Let us deliver real change and real hope in the next few years and set an example, whether economic, moral, or political, that we are the natural party of government.

My fellow islanders deserve nothing but the best, and I will do my best to give them the voice that they deserve. Some Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), have explained why we are here far more eloquently than I have, but I will battle for my island. I cannot promise to win every battle, but I will fight every battle on their behalf for as long as I have the honour of serving in our Parliament what Wordsworth called “that delightful Island”.