The Spectator

Kemi Badenoch: from African immigrant to Essex MP, I’ve lived the ‘British dream’

Kemi Badenoch: from African immigrant to Essex MP, I've lived the 'British dream'
Text settings

Our former Spectator colleague Kemi Badenoch gave her maiden speech in the House of Commons earlier on today. It was, in part, a response to the new Corbynista MPs who have been denouncing parliament. Here’s an edited version of what she had to say:-

I am often inexplicably mistaken for a member of the Labour Party. I can’t think why. I’m a Conservative – to all intents and purposes a first-generation immigrant. Born in Wimbledon, yes, but I grew up in Nigeria. I chose to make the United Kingdom my home. Growing up in Nigeria I saw real poverty and experienced it. Going without electricity, doing my homework by candlelight because the state electricity board could not provide power. Fetching water a mile away in heavy, rusty buckets because the nationalised water could not get water to flow from the taps. Unlike many colleagues born after 1980, I was unlucky enough to live under socialist policies. It’s not something I’d wish on anyone, and that’s just one of the reasons that I am a Conservative.

As a woman of African origin, I also believe there is a lot Africa can teach us. Sound money is not just a catchy phrase: the lesson of Zimbabwe is salient for us today. Money cannot be printed and redistribution cannot be successful without first creating wealth. Edmund Burke said that society is a contract between the dead, the living and those yet to be born. I say to colleagues who are wavering on tackling the debt and the deficit: hold your nerve. This is part of the contract that we owe our descendants. To leave our children carrying the burdens of our debt and excesses is morally wrong.

There are few countries in the world where you can go, in one generation, from immigrant to parliamentarian. Michael Howard spoke of the “British dream”: people choosing this country because of its tolerance and opportunity. It is a land where Nigerian girl can move here, aged 16, be accepted as British and have the great honour of representing Saffron Walden.

Yet there are some in this country, and even in this chamber, who seek to denigrate the traditions of this parliament – portraying this house as a bastion of privilege of class that “reeks of the establishment”.  It is no coincidence that those who seek to undermine the institutions of this island – parliament, monarchy, church and family – also propagate the worldview that sees Britain and the values that we hold dear as a force for bad in the world.

Growing up in Nigeria, my view was rather different. The UK was a beacon, a shining light, a promise of a better life. Often, we hear the radical reformer John Bright misquoted to the effect that the House of Commons is the mother of all parliaments. What he actually said was that this country is the mother of all parliaments. Our political institutions may not always be held in high esteem, but I believe that politics is a mirror held up to society. Yes, it can sometimes be unedifying. Yes, we see human weakness on display - but it also embodies much that is great in our country. When I walk down these corridors and stand in this chamber, once graced by my heroes Winston Churchill, Airey Neave and Margaret Thatcher -  I am filled by nothing but awe, respect and pride for all that it stands for.

As Woody Allen said about sex: if it’s not messy, you’re not doing it right. Madame Deputy Speaker, the same is true for democracy. It’s not always predictable, its results are not always elegant, it can throw up results that no one expected. But we adjust. The British parliament always has adjusted and that is why it’s the oldest in the world: it takes its lead from the British people.

We face historic challenges. People are rightly concerned about what Brexit will mean for this country, their jobs and their families. But I do not believe that winter is coming.

I believe that the vote for Brexit is the greatest-ever vote of confidence in the project of the United Kingdom. That vision of a ‘global Britain’ that the minister referred to is a project that, as a young African girl, I dreamed of becoming part of. As a British woman I now have the great honour of delivering that project for my constituents in the greatest parliament on earth.