‘Like you, Battersea is well-educated, bursting with ideas – and massively in debt’

voters_reception[1]Short speech I gave to a group of young voters from Battersea who Will Martindale had invited to the House of Commons, Jan 2014

Welcome, thank you all for coming.

I’m a local Battersea councillor. That means if you want to know about the nuclear weapons ask one of these MPs – if your bins aren’t being emptied, come and see me later.

I know politics can seem pretty far from your lives. Someone like you could never end up in the House of Commons. This place is for insiders, rich people, people who can play the system. That’s certainly how I felt growing up in Birmingham.

I want to tell you about Battersea and our local heroes. A gang of misfits who helped to create the world we live in today. You’ll see that these outsiders started off every bit as far from this place as you are now.

In some ways, Battersea is like the average young person.

Battersea is well-educated, bursting with ideas – and massively in debt.

  • It’s Britain’s youngest constituency. I’m already past the average age of 34-and-a-half.
  • More than half of the population has a university degree.
  • The most indebted postcode in Britain is in Battersea.

Can you put your hands up if your postcode begins: “SW11 6”. That’s area between Clapham Common and Wandsworth Common. There is £649m of mortgage debt in that one postcode.

Battersea is bursting with ideas. We have a long tradition of awkward, radical characters. A century ago Battersea Labour Party gave Britain:

  • John Burns, the 16th son of a washerwoman rose from Battersea’s slums to become an MP and Britain’s first working class cabinet member.
  • Sharpurji Saklatvala, Britain’s first Asian Communist MP in the 1920s.
  • Charlotte Despard, an aristocratic Irish nationalist suffragette
  • John Archer, a Battersea photographer, who became London’s first black mayor in 1913.

A group of people like this had never been in power anywhere in the world before. Misfits. Outsiders.

It was great to see Alf Dubbs here this evening. He was a much-loved MP for Battersea in the 1980s. Alf’s journey is incredible – and important to remember as today is Holocaust Memorial Day.

Alf was just six when he was put on a train out of Prague, the city he was born in. It was the day the Nazis arrived in the city in 1939. Alf was one of 600 children saved by a British businessman who arranged their travel to London. Alf now sits in the House of Lords as Baron Dubs of Battersea.

Those are Battersea’s heroes, my heroes. They didn’t have success handed to them.

They knew the difference that politics can make.

Recently, the council wanted to close the library that serves the Winstanley Estate, and to charge children £2.50 to use a local playground.

Determined community campaigns stopped these plans. Young people who used the library and the playground were at the heart of these campaigns.

It was inspiring to work with local teenagers. Because, like Battersea, you’re well-educated, massively in debt, energetic and open to new ideas!

You told us you want the EMA back, you want lower tuition fees, you want votes at 16 and 17 and more jobs for younger people. But you feel like you’re on the outside.

Just remember Alf, aged six sitting alone on that train for an unknown new life, leaving his parents behind. John Burns leaving school at 10 for a life of manual work. John Archer being abused in Battersea Town Hall just for being black. Sharpurji Saklatvala put in jail for two months when he spoke up for working people in Battersea.

They came back from those dark moments to change the world. No one handed it to them. “Life isn’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

They were pulled forward by the future, not held back by the past.

It is easier than you think to change the world. I hope you give it a go.

I’m very grateful to you for coming out this evening, I hope you find it enjoyable. I’ll hand over to Jack before the next speaker – and if you have any problems getting your bins emptied, you can email me tomorrow.

* My planned remarks – as the excellent Dan Jarvis MP volunteered to speak, an shorter version was delivered

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