Sarah Jones used her maiden speech to Parliament yesterday to challenge the Tory Government to provide the funds needed to pay for the potentially life-saving fitting of sprinklers in council-run residential tower blocks across the country.
Croydon Central’s new MP was speaking during a debate on the Grenfell Tower disaster, in which at least 80 north Kensington residents lost their lives a month ago in the biggest fire tragedy in this country since World War II.
Jones said, “I am proud that Labour’s Croydon Council was the first council to agree to retro-fitting all our tower blocks with sprinklers.
“I call on the Government to clarify whether they fund this, and all the other changes we need to reverse the shocking cuts to local government.
“We cannot afford not to do this.
“Seven years of austerity have ripped through our society. We are letting people down.”
It has been a requirement of building regulations since 2007 that all residential towers taller than 30 metres should have sprinkler systems fitted. But as Inside Croydon reported yesterday, some private towers, including the 43-storey private development at Saffron Square where construction work only began in 2011, have used loopholes to get around that requirement.
Jones’s first speech since becoming an MP last month was well-received, with a large contingent of Labour MPs in the chamber, including Lambeth South/Croydon North’s Steve Reed OBE, who was making the most of the new House rules about the need, or lack of them, for MPs to wear a tie.
There were fewer, far fewer, Tory MPs present to discuss the Grenfell disaster, with only three Conservatives listed to speak in the debate.
But Jones used her speech to thank their party leader, the strong and stable Theresa May, for calling the election, giving her a chance of “an early replay” of her 2015 General Election defeat, when Jones lost to Gavin Barwell by just 165 votes.
“So I’m glad to repay her and help her with her own staffing problems,” Jones said, to laughter from both sides of the chamber. Since losing Croydon Central by 5,600 votes last month, Barwell has been hired as May’s Chief of Staff.
Jones also referred to Barwell’s status as “an acclaimed author”, his having written How To Win A Marginal Seat.
“I can’t wait to read the sequel,” Jones said. There seemed to be much laughter coming from the handful of Tories present on the Government benches.
Following the convention of maiden speeches, Jones duly listed some of the attributes of her constituency and paid tribute to the work of her predecessor. She highlighted the impact of Lillian’s Law, the drug-driving legislation introduced by Barwell following the death of 14-year-old New Addington schoolgirl Lillian Groves. There have been 13,000 convictions since that law was passed.
She also paid tribute to her father, who died of cancer just days after seeing his daughter win her place in Parliament. Sarah Jones had previously championed Owen Smith in his challenge to Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. Her father, though, “was proved right about the Right Honourable Member for Islington North”.
This, said Jones, showed that, “You should listen to your dad.”
Much of her speech was taken up with the ramifications of the Grenfell disaster, and how politicians have failed the people they are supposed to represent. Given that her election was helped, at least in part, by an unauthorised poster that channelled Stormzy, it was appropriate that Jones should channel the Thornton Heath grime star in her speech.
“We’ve failed too many people for too long,” Jones said, and accused the Tories of being in “complete denial” of many of the problems in society, some of which had contributed to the Grenfell disaster.
She spoke of a tearful conversation with a Croydon firefighter just days after they had served at the Grenfell blaze. Jones told the House that the firefighter had made her promise, “not to rest until we have seen justice done”.
And referring to the groundswell of support she had received in being elected, particularly from younger voters, many of whom had voted for the first time in their lives, she said, “Some had perhaps never voted before because they felt politicians had nothing to offer.
“Now they have put their faith in democracy – in us – for the first time. We must not fail them. If the election has taught us anything, it is that we cannot take anyone for granted. We must work harder than ever.
“As Croydon’s Stormzy put so well in one of his songs, ‘You’re never too big for the boot’.”
Gavin Barwell may have never heard of Stormzy before the election. He has now.
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