Mhairi Black, the youngest person to be elected to parliament since at least the 19th century, used a barnstorming first speech in the House of Commons to mount a withering attack on the chancellor for cutting housing benefit to young people and to call for Labour to join the Scottish National party in mounting an effective opposition to the Tories.
To laughter in the Commons, Black declared that she was the only 20-year-old in the country whom George Osborne was helping with her housing bill.
“My housing [in London] is subsidised by the state … but in this budget the chancellor abolished any housing benefit for anyone under the age of 21,” she said. “We are now in the ridiculous situation whereby, because I am an MP, not only am I the youngest, but I am also the only 20-year-old in the whole of the UK who the chancellor is prepared to help with housing.”
Black went on to make a direct plea to Labour colleagues not to vote for the government’s planned cuts to tax credits.
“Yes we will have political differences, yes in other parliaments we may be opposing parties, but within this chamber we are not,” Black said. “No matter how much I may wish it, the SNP is not the sole opposition to this government – but nor is the Labour party. It is together with all the parties on these benches that we must form an opposition, and in order to be effective we must do so by opposing not abstaining.”
To applause from the SNP cohort, which was immediately rebuked by the deputy Speaker Eleanor Lang, Black said: “I reach out a genuine hand of friendship that I can only hope will be taken. Let us come together. Let us be that opposition. Ultimately people are needing a voice, people are needing help. Let’s give them it.”
Earlier in her speech, Black criticised the “deep lack of understanding about Scotland within the Labour party”. Explaining that she came from a traditionally Labour socialist family, she said: “I have never been quiet in my assertion that it is the Labour party that left me, not the other way round.”
Speaking of the SNP’s landslide in Scotland in May’s general election, in which Labour was reduced to one MP, she said: “The SNP did not triumph on a wave of nationalism; in fact nationalism has nothing to do with what happened in Scotland. We triumphed on a wave of hope – hope that there is something better than the Thatcherite neoliberal policies that come from this chamber.”
As one of the last of the 50 new SNP MPs to make their maiden speech, the representative for Paisley and Renfrewshire South teased her colleagues for making tenuous connections between their constituencies and Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns. Trumping them, Black announced that the Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace was born in Paisley.
The response to the speech was almost unanimously positive, with plaudits coming from across the political spectrum and Black’s name soon trending on Twitter in the UK.
Former Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson tweeted: “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough! Well done” while Labour’s newly elected Tulip Siddiq conceded: “I may not agree with everything Mhairi Black said in her maiden speech but credit where it’s due - it was well delivered, passionate & witty.”
Even the Daily Mail, not renowned for its praise of the SNP, described Black’s oratory as “one of the best maiden speeches of the 2015 intake”
This article was written by Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 14th July 2015 18.02 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010