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By Matthew Barrett
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When I first reported on David Cameron's contribution to the Queen's Speech debate on Wednesday, I noted the funny and well delivered Loyal Address given by Nadhim Zahawi, the Member of Parliament for Stratford upon Avon and thought I should cover it more fully today. Of particular note was Zahawi's assertion that William Shakespeare "was in his soul and actions a natural Tory".
Zahawi started off, as is traditional, with humour:
"In this year of the Queen’s diamond jubilee, I am deeply honoured to move the Loyal Address. For six decades, Her Majesty has provided us with a peerless example of duty, dignity and service to the nation. And it was the subject of “peerlessness” that was immediately on my mind when I was called into the Chief Whip’s office last week. I really thought that he wanted to have a full and frank discussion with me on the reform of the other place. I ran to No. 9 Downing street, in the pouring rain, clutching my folder of briefing notes, while continuously repeating, “More effective, but not elected. More effective, but not elected.” I can announce to this House that having a small glass of water, without the biscuits, with the Chief Whip has allowed us to reach agreement; as our manifesto demanded, a consensus on this thorny issue has been reached.
It was only later that I remembered something important: the accepted convention is that this Address is usually delivered by an hon. Member of this House just as their illustrious career is starting to approach its expiry date—perhaps my right. hon. Friend the Prime Minister was gently hinting that I had a great future behind me. Equally, the Loyal Address is usually seconded by a young, ambitious, thrusting Back Bencher who is hungry for promotion, and it is in that spirit that I warmly congratulate the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), who has that happy role today.
Although I have rarely seen the Chamber this full, this will probably not be my most watched speech. Not many Back-Bench MPs can boast more than 130,000 downloads on YouTube, for a few lines uttered during an Opposition day debate. To any colleagues in the House seeking a wider audience for their speeches, my advice is: spend less time thinking about what you are going to say and more time thinking about what you are going to wear. I recommend a loud tie—preferably one with a soundtrack.
The last person to move this motion was my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley), and I seem to recall that he informed this House that he was able to trace his lineage back to the village of Lilley, which has existed in his constituency since Anglo-Saxon times. With a name like mine, I was never going to convince the voters of Stratford-on-Avon that my ancestors fought the Normans at the battle of Hastings. In fact, Stratford-on-Avon is a constituency in the heart of England, in the county of Warwickshire, that is 90% white. If I may say so, Mr Speaker, this is not a kaleidoscope county. But it is testament to the values of that constituency, and of this country, that it chose me as its representative, and it is on its behalf that I deliver this address."
Continuing on the topic of his constituency, and, movingly, his family origins, Zahawi said:
"During the election, I canvassed every one of Stratford-on-Avon’s 79 villages and hamlets, as well as its four principal towns. It became clear to me that people were not interested in my ethnicity, or in where I had gone to school. What they wanted to know was: was I on their side, and was I up to the job? For us politicians, and for this Government, those are the questions that really matter. Our different backgrounds were certainly a point of curiosity, but what made the difference was our shared values, and in that the people of Stratford represent the very best of modern Britain.
Mr Speaker, my family arrived on these shores with only £50 in their pockets—immigrants from a land in the grip of a cruel and murderous regime. This great country offered us the priceless gifts of freedom and opportunity, and the ultimate proof of that opportunity is that I can stand before you today as a Member of this, the oldest and greatest of all Parliaments."
After praising measures announced in the Queen's Speech, Zahawi returned to his constituency:
"In business, we soon learn that the world owes us nothing; historic ties, patient diplomacy, shared values and even shared language will not get us that contract unless we can also beat our rivals on quality, service and price. That is a lesson that we ignore at our peril. Yet there is one area in which the world does owe Britain—one field in which we remain both a net creditor and a leading exporter. It is more stable than finance and more enduring than oil. I am describing our extraordinary cultural industries. Indeed, as the Member for Stratford-on-Avon, I cannot proceed any further without a mention of William Shakespeare, my most famous former constituent.
Members of the House will doubtless be familiar with Shakespeare’s warning in Act I of “Hamlet”: “Give thy thoughts no tongue, Nor any unproportion’d thought his act”— valuable advice indeed for those of us who use Twitter, Mr Speaker.
The House will be aware of not only Shakespeare the playwright and poet, but Shakespeare the industry—another area in which our fame resounds across the world. When the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, visited Britain for two days last summer, one day was reserved for high-level strategic talks in Whitehall, but the other—at his own request—was spent with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford. The thought of one of the world’s most powerful men wearing special white gloves, so that he could handle a Shakespeare first edition with reverence, is a striking reminder of just how far our cultural reach extends. And the traffic is not just one-way; for the many Chinese visitors to Stratford, a park bench where Premier Wen took a short rest has become a major tourist attraction.
In summing up, I should say that it is Shakespeare the man who resonates with me the most. As well as creating great art, Shakespeare built a great business. Uniquely among Elizabethan playwrights, he owned a share in the theatre company for which he wrote. Like all good business owners, he invested in his company. In 1608, he helped to finance a second theatre in Blackfriars, just across the river from the more famous Globe. Lacking family connections, but possessed of a great grammar school education, his achievement is all the more remarkable.
As well as being the greatest writer in our language—in any language, I would say—there is no better embodiment of British values than this self-taught, self-made, and indeed self-created, man. He was a man who worked his utmost to put on earth and in our hearts a source of wealth that endures to this day. In fact, more than that, I would go as far as to say that the great bard was in his soul and actions a natural Tory. I commend the motion to the House.
The full speech – and other contributions to the debate – can be read here.