In May 1997 I promised to tell the truth and stand up for Slough. For 20 years I have continued to do that, and I know that, with the help of many Labour colleagues and local activists, I have made a difference. The town when I stood was a troubled place, rival gangs of Sikh and Muslim youth were trying to kill each other on our streets, we were in the top ten towns in the country for early male deaths from heart disease, we had failing schools, crumbling housing estates and companies based in the town were planning to leave. Residents complained to me that the only police officers they saw were driving past in fast cars and Slough was a byeword for crime.
Our town has grown since 1997, but then 2238 people clamed unemployment benefit, now it is 1,250. Our crime levels fell and Slough became safer than Reading and Oxford. Our health has improved faster than average and I suspect I am the only MP to be able to claim that she has helped to break ground on two new accident and emergency departments in the local hospital while she has been in office. Slough is one of the ten top places for GCSE results and the skill levels of our population have increased meaning that we are more productive than almost anywhere else outside London. These are all issue which I have championed, from calling a skills summit to pressing for much needed funds for Wexham park hospital and our local GPs. I agreed to back a new runway for Heathrow on condition that our rail line was electrified and that is now underway reducing pollution from diesel trains and offering the prospect of more frequent and faster services across London.
Some big challenges remain: the western rail link to Heathrow is not yet built, the quality of our council housing stock has been massively improved but there is still too little housing that working people in the town can afford to live in. I have encouraged the council to regenerate, helping to raise funds to create playgrounds in almost every neighbourhood, and have encouraged them to avoid the temptation to fix their financial problems by making newly built homes available only to people who can afford premium rents.
And through parliament I have helped to build a fairer society, making sure that the voices of women, including women of south Asian descent are heard in parliament. I have stuck my neck out to persuade Labour and Conservative governments to back changes which were not immediately popular: granting full British citizenship to people who were British Overseas Citizens and had no other nationality, making big companies publish information about slavery in their supply chains are just two examples.
But people in Slough still face many problems. Forsome years now I have had to tell constituents living in miserable overpriced and overcrowded homes that they are unlikely to qualify for a secure tenancy that they can afford. I have been frustrated by cruel immigration rules which prevent families from living together in this country where they are citizens while inefficient administration means that some people easily flout the rules. I am embarrassed to discuss with our headteachers how they will cut spending to fit the meagre budgets they face. I have been depressed by the way the fantastic capacity in the voluntary sector is being run down by lack of funds or poor leadership. I have been bored by political squabbles over personalities and I know I don’t still have the passion which has driven my politics for 20 years.
So I have decided to give someone else a chance to do the wonderful job which I have been privileged to hold for so long. I know I’ll miss it, and I didn’t want this to happen so fast. I foolishly believed the prime minister when she said again and again that she wouldn’t call an early election. I cannot believe that spending 8 weeks of a time limited negotiation period campaigning in an election rather than talking to our EU partners will strengthen her hand in negotiations with anyone outside her own conservative party.
I wish my successor well and my warmest thanks to all of you who have helped me to achieve some of these goals
Rt Hon Fiona Mactaggart MP