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Helen Grant is filling the not inconsiderable shoes of Ann Widdecombe as the new Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald.
In her maiden speech on Monday, apart from paying tribute to her predecessor, she took the opportunity to set out her vision for promoting social mobility:
"I want to say something about social mobility. One of the greatest attributes of the British people is their belief in fairness, and it is that sense of fairness that supports the notion that whatever your starting point in life’s marathon, it does not have to be your personal best for the rest of the race. If you try to move up the field, or even get into the leading pack, you should have the opportunity to do so. Aspiration, family and enterprise have been essential elements in my own personal journey. They are also fundamental in a society in which mobility can flourish and not flounder. I should like to say a few things about each of them.
"I believe in opportunity and aspiration, and in the ability of individuals to achieve, progress and reach their full potential, whoever they are and wherever they are from, if they choose to do so. I came from a pretty humble start, but I was allowed to progress in life because I had the good fortune to engage with people who instilled in me the importance of working hard and aiming high, and values such as individualism, self-empowerment, choice, freedom, free enterprise, self-reliance and self-esteem. I hope that we, as politicians, can advocate and reinforce those values, because if we do we may be able to help many, many people to rise beyond the circumstances of their birth, and if we do that, society as a whole will prosper
"I also believe in the power of the family. I believe that the family is a fundamental and vital tool in holding society together. It can provide security, stability and commitment. In the family we learn how to give, how to share, how to be kind, how to care, and how to build relationships. Those are the foundations that people need in order to progress. Yet for many years the family has been badly neglected as an institution, although it is also key to dealing with issues such as gun crime, knife crime, teenage pregnancy, truancy and antisocial behaviour. I hope that we, as a Parliament, will do all that we can to support the family.
"As for enterprise, it enables aspiration to become reality. It can also create wealth, independence and choice. I set up my first business when I was 11 years old, digging up old bottles from a Victorian dump in Carlisle and selling them at an old curiosity shop. I know that that sounds like something out of Dickens, but it is absolutely true. At one stage I was making about £2 a week, which was a lot of money in those days. I have always loved business, and I have always been enterprising.
"In our country it has nearly always been possible to aim high, work hard, be resourceful, take a risk and make money, but that is changing. Over-regulation is strangling enterprise. Every accident is someone else’s fault, and people are quick to talk about rights—but what about responsibilities? Even our employment legislation has become so potentially onerous that people must be very careful about whom they take on. Any redefinition of a job description can be construed as constructive dismissal, and any criticism of performance may equal “harassment”. I often feel that I cannot give a bad but honest reference without fear of litigation.
"The combined effect of all that is a massive disincentive to enterprise, which is bad for business and bad for Britain. I hope that, through this coalition Government, we can get rid of some of this nonsense, replacing it with a much more common-sense approach."