Julian Huppert’s Maiden Speech

Julian Huppert’s Maiden Speech

At 17.41 on Wednesday the 26th of May 2010 Cambridge’s newly elected Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert made his maiden speech to the House of Commons:

Thank you for giving me this chance to speak so early in this Parliament, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is great to see you in the Chair. There has been a long succession of maiden speeches from across the House, from the excellent speech by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on mental health issues, through to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) and the most recent speech, by the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock). Let me say first what an honour it is to be elected to this House to follow David Howarth, who served as an excellent MP for Cambridge for five years. Everywhere I went during the election campaign, people were full of praise for David and his achievements, from specific items of casework to saving Brookfields hospital and his campaign against the closure of the young people’s psychiatric service. His national work has also been acclaimed, such as his fight against the “Abolition of Parliament Bill”. Now that I am here, I am delighted to find that he is remembered clearly by many in all parts of the House, and also by many of the Clerks, who appreciated his interest and expertise in procedure. David is a true scholar, a fine lawyer and a great representative, and he will be missed on these Benches.

Cambridge has a long and distinguished electoral history. Since 1295, our representatives have included such notable political reformers as Oliver Cromwell-although I do not endorse his aims or his methods. If one includes the parallel Cambridge University constituency, which operated from 1603 to 1950, the list also includes many great scientists, including Sir George Gabriel Stokes and Sir Isaac Newton, who was arguably the first scientist to make money, although in his case it was as Master of the Mint. In the light of recent discussions, I should also say that the representatives of the university constituencies were elected using the single transferable vote, so there is plenty of historic precedent for using it for elections to this House.

Cambridge is a distinguished city and a special city. It became significant under the Romans, as an important causeway past the swampland of the fens-now all coloured blue. Like Rome, Cambridge is built on seven hills, although anyone who knows it well will be hard pressed to name them all, or indeed to find them.Cambridge is a city of values-of people who think beyond the immediate. It is a liberal city, with residents who understand the value of civil liberties and human rights. Cambridge is an environmental city, keen to live sustainably and without polluting the planet. It is also an international city, with residents who appreciate diversity and welcome those from other countries, andhave a deep interest in foreign affairs and what their country is doing in their name. Cambridge cares about fairness and social justice.For it is not a uniformly wealthy city. Some areas are wealthy, especially around the picturesque historic centre where tourists gather, but many, including the division that I had the honour to represent for eight years on Cambridgeshire county council and the ward where I now live, are less well-off. We must ensure that inequality is reduced, both in Cambridge and across the country.

Cambridge is best known as a university town, and it has three of them. There is the eponymous university-801 years old, although one should never inquire too carefully about such ages-and Anglia Ruskin university is an excellent university in its own right. It is financed by a certain Lord Ashcroft, and that is a very good use of his money. We also have a branch of the Open university as well.There is more to Cambridge as an education city than just these universities. We are proud to have two marvellous sixth form colleges, and excellent further education at Cambridge regional college-I hope that the Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley), and the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice) will forgive me for trespassing by a few metres across our borders. We also have countless good schools, although some need rather more investment, possibly through a pupil premium, to ensure that all children can have the fair start that they deserve. Cambridge is a city of students, especially around the central areas. As a former student there myself, and more recently as a lecturer and a director of studies, I have seen at first hand the problems that they face as a result of ever increasing debts. I have seen how that debt changes their social interactions-Cambridge students are more segregated than they used to be-and how it affects their career choices for the worse. Cambridge is also a city of science. It has its historic figures such as Newton, Darwin, Watson and Crick, while its more contemporary greats are still pushing back the frontiers of knowledge at a great pace.

As one of the few scientists in this House, I hope to bring my expertise to bear on many of the issues facing us.I suspect that my own research field will not come up too often. I work-or, rather, I worked-on four-stranded DNA structures called G-quadruplexes. I studied how these structures form within cells, how they control which genes are turned on and off, and how they can be targets for new anti-cancer drugs. I do not think that will come up, but it is an understanding of how science works that I bring to this House.I can speak on wider issues of science policy, such as the funding process for both applied and blue-skies research, and on the operation of the DNA database. I can also speak on how science should affect the broader reaches of policy: for instance, I can speak about making decisions on low-carbon energy sources, following the ideas of my scientific colleague Professor David MacKay, who is now chief scientific adviser at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. However, I also believe that science, and more specifically the scientific method, has much to contribute to more diverse fields such as home affairs and justice. For instance, the Cambridge criminologist Professor Larry Sherman has performed elegant trials studying how to deploy police most efficiently to minimise criminal activity. He has shown that alternatives to short-term jail, such as restorative justice, are more effective at reducing future crime, cost less, and are preferred by victims. Scientists are obviously not unique in being able to apply such approaches, but we do come with a commitment to making evidence-based policy decisions.

Cambridge is also a city of technology and innovation. It is an economic powerhouse for the region, with many high-tech companies forming an ever growing cluster. Companies such as ARM, Solexa and Cambridge Display Technology are changing our lives, and driving the economy. There is much still to learn about how to stimulate and nurture such clusters and such companies, and I hope that we can develop a set of policies that facilitate such growth. But economic growth is not all that we should care about. We know that economic growth can lead to environmental damage, but the issue is broader than just that trade-off.

We are too fixated on gross domestic product, and make too much of whether it has gone up or down by 0.2%. It does not measure the things we ought to care about- education, health, or well-being. If there is an oil spill off the coast that we then clear up, more or less well, GDP has increased, but I am not sure that any of us would be delighted with that outcome.We need to focus more broadly on personal issues such as well-being and happiness. We need to develop rigorous metrics to measure this well-being throughout society, and then ensure that we bear them in mind when developing policy. We already know a lot about well-being. It does not change much with income, above a figure of around £7,000 a year. It changes with the quality of our environment, with the number of friends and the other social bonds that we have, with the activities that we get involved in, with family, and with community. I shall end by summing up my aims for Cambridge and for the country. I want to make Cambridge a city where people want and can afford to live and work. I want it to be a city at ease with its environment, a tolerant, open and more equal city. And I want to expand those same aims across the country.It has been said before that decisions are made by those who show up. It is a great honour that the people of Cambridge have asked me to show up here on their behalf, and I will try to represent them to the best of my ability.

Hansard Source

At the time of writing to find the text requires stepping through seventeen Hansard webpages, and to identify the video requires stepping though about eight hours of video so I thought it would be worth making the speech more easily accessible here.

My Comments

I think this is an excellent speech, it’s great to see Mr Huppert making it so soon – on the second proper sitting day of the new Parliament. I thought Huppert showed a good understanding of his role with his sentiment:

For Cambridge and for the country.

I’m happy that we’ve got an MP putting the city of Cambridge first and not someone solely focused on either national or party issues.

While Huppert mentioned the negative effects of high levels of student debt – as a result of tuition fees – he did not dare criticise his Government’s failure to take on the Liberal Democrat policy of scrapping fees.

Another serious omission in my view was any comment on defence. There was no mention of Afghanistan or Iraq or of potential future threats of North Korea, Iran or of India and Pakistan.

While Huppert, and Green Tony Juniper had both talked during the campaign about this idea of not using GDP but adopting a new metric to measure the performance of the country I was surprised to see it make the maiden speech. I disagree with the inference that the measure of GDP really influences what people do. It is just a statistic, and an important one, though more important how much we are selling abroad, and if the country is trading its way out of its current economic position is much more critical to maintaining the country’s wealth and standard of living. While I would not object the Government monitoring a new, parallel “well-being” metric, particularly if its component parts were broken down geographically and by sector so that action could be taken based on it, I don’t think we should be refactoring the national economy and say creating artificial incentives to improve well-being in the same way as we are creating artificial incentives to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The nation’s wealth really matters if we want to trade with the rest of the world.

The idea that “well-being” doesn’t significantly change with income above about £7,000 another concept which I find very worrying. As a Cambridge University academic one might be able lead a reasonable lifestyle in Cambridge on £7,000 a year but others trying to live on that level of income would find it very difficult to afford a decent place to live in the city.

Huppert pointing out that he is now one of the few scientists in the commons is also important and I am pleased he has made that point. I think it does show up a serious problem; I think the fact that so many constituencies send lawyers to represent them in Parliament reflects badly on what we see as the role of our representatives. Successful, growing countries like China have many more scientists, in Government.

I am surprised that Huppert has distanced himself from the aims of Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell was aiming to establish a democracy, his aims were laudable. He found that the time wasn’t right and he didn’t have enough support to achieve what he was seeking. During the election campaign Mr Huppert said he was a committed republican, however a few days before making his maiden speech he had ditched these principles and taken the oath to the Queen.

Unlike the MPs who were listening to Huppert in the chamber I thought his joke that Sir Isaac Newton, as Master of the Mint, was the first scientist to make money was pretty good and worthy of a laugh.

See also

Huppert’s other activity so far in Parliament includes submitting an EDM on the Digital Economy Bill:

That this House believes that sections nine to 18 of the Digital Economy Act 2010 should not have been rushed through in the dying days of the last Parliament; further believes that these sections have large repercussions for consumers, civil liberties, freedom of information and access to the internet; and calls on the Government to introduce early legislation to repeal those provisions.

26 responses to “Julian Huppert’s Maiden Speech”

  1. Richard

    I just want to say thanks for providing information like this to Cambridge residents – it’s really great to see Cambridge being represented directly in parliament, and as you say I think this was a pretty good speech too. Thanks.

  2. You write, “I am surprised that Huppert has distanced himself from the aims of Oliver Cromwell.”

    I expect that Mr Huppert had in mind Cromwell’s religious aims, i.e. the conversion of the British to evangelical Puritanism.

  3. Because I left Cambridge last year, I haven’t been paying attention to Julian Huppert. From his speech he seems really good, a worthy replacement for David Howarth. Maybe he can contribute in Parliament for science, as well as David did for law.

    I too thought £7,000 sounded low. Julian sounded like he was referring to a specific study which said that was the level. Would love to see what it was. It sounds like enough money for basic needs, except as Richard says, housing. Have to see the study, to see how it measured, say, use of housing benefit or below market cost social housing.

    Finally, on GDP, I agree with Julian, and not with Richard. I particularly like his point that making and cleaning up an oil spill increases GDP. A quick Google News search shows that GDP is constantly referred to in articles. The articles tend to imply so deeply that it isn’t explicit that an increase in GDP is good, decrease is bad.

    I’d like to see other measures reported properly – and to do that they need to be as simple, as headline and as well known. And for that, in marketing terms, I suspect some sort of aggregated “Gross National Happiness” measure is needed, even though such an aggregation would have to be subjective in its construction.

  4. I was pleased to see Mr Huppert use the “like Rome, Cambridge is built on seven hills” joke. (For those who have not heard the joke before, the seven hills in question were Castle Hill, Honey Hill, Market Hill, Peas Hill, Pound Hill, St Andrew’s Hill, and Senate House Hill. The antiquity of the joke is evident in the inclusion of St Andrew’s Hill, replaced by Lion Yard in the 1970s. Perhaps Hills Road could be substituted in a modern version.)

  5. Thanks for putting this online.

    Can you explain what is meant in your comments by “artificial incentives” to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, as distinct from just ‘incentives’?

  6. David Howarth has just walked past me at the library where I work as I read this! That’s not the purpose of my comment though. You write:

    “the fact that so many constituencies send lawyers to represent them in Parliament reflects badly on what we see as the role of our representatives.”

    I can agree with that only if by “we” you mean “those of us who select Parliamentary candidates”. I’m sure that the uppermost concern in most people’s minds when they vote for a particular candidate is the party to which he or she belongs, rather than any facts about the candidate as a person. Certainly such facts may swing elections in the odd well-publicised case involving corruption or suchlike, but I’ve never known anybody to say that they were voting for such-and-such on the basis of their profession or even personality.

    I think it’s much more likely that lawyers (a) have a special interest in politics because a large amount of it is law-making, and (b) have the practical skills (especially of advocacy) to impress the committees which select candidates. Considering advocacy in particular, it would be interesting to know how many politicians were formerly barristers compared to the number who were formerly solicitors.

  7. I’ve been looking for the source of Huppert’s assertion that extra earnings over £7,000 per year don’t improve happiness.

    I think the best candidate I found was in a presentation compiled by Richard Layard, in which he commented on research by R.Inglehart and H-D. Klingemann saying:

    history also shows – that, above $15,000 per head, higher average income is no guarantee of greater happiness.

    That study looks at whole countries and compares their GDP to welbeing levels – and doesn’t look at individuals.

    There is another regularly cited idea that once all your “needs” (as defined by Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs) are satisfied then extra income doesn’t make you any happier.

  8. Huppert is a Liberal Democrat politician, as you would expect from someone in that position he has essentially made a series of statements with few, if anyone, would seriously disagree with.

    Huppert has essentially said GDP is not a good measure of well-being and happiness. I’ve got no quibble with that, or going, as he did, a step further and suggesting that we need a statistic to measuring well being and happiness which should inform policy making.

    I agree with all that Huppert has actually said in relation to GDP. The reason I am worried by the inclusion of this section in Huppert’s speech comes from what has been said during the campaign in Cambridge – primarily initially by the Green Candidate Tony Juniper – then echoed and supported by Julian Huppert. Ideas such as that we should create non-jobs, unnecessary jobs just to give people employment in the food and energy sectors.

    As long as we are not an isolationist country and are engaged in trading with other countries in the world then generating wealth is important so we can buy the things we want and need, things like food, fuel, and drugs. (If we did take the isolationist route – as the Greens propose – then those essentials would become more expensive, just as they would if we didn’t generate wealth as a nation.)

  9. Martin,

    I’ve described various state incentives to encourage lower carbon dioxide emissions as “artificial” to stress that they are something created by the state – trading carbon credits is not an inherent feature of the economy and the free market.

    I’m not suggesting they’re not legitimate levers to create and use to effect democratic policies. What I am doing is cautioning that we need to be very careful when meddling with the free market – especially in ways which can end up making us in the UK poorer, and disadvantaging us compared to countries we compete with.

  10. Phil,

    My comment that none of the Lib Dem Candidates were credible was made on the basis of the various candidate’s performance as councillors. I was unimpressed by what I had seen of Huppert’s performance as a county councillor; particularly his reluctance to take part in police priority setting, and even appearing to deny having a role in setting police priorities during a public meeting.

    Huppert appears to have taken on his role first as candidate, and now as MP, with commendable enthusiasm. I’m still surprised at the Lib Dem’s choice.

  11. Tom,

    If you’re right (I expect you are) and people are voting for parties, and not for individuals then I think that’s a major problem. In Cambridge, a constituency of around 100,000 people only a couple of hundred took part in Huppert’s election and only fifty or so attended the Conservative open caucus. Political parties no longer have the grass roots base they used to; I think their time has passed.

    I think it would be good if people took more interest in the individuals and looked past the parties – this is particularly important in the local election where the parties struggle to get people to stand and there is very little vetting at all.

    Anyone telling a Lib Dem Canvasser they’re thinking of voting Lib Dem risks being asked to stand (or even appointed to the Lords).

  12. Well done for putting all this together to give us a good speech by the latest convert to the Monarchy!

    I think it’s time to bring in dedicated constituencies for universities in specific regions, so that their students stop skewing electoral results, as in Cambridge.

  13. I’ve been thinking about these happiness measures; most include things like the number of friends people have, the frequency they have sex , if they’re married and even if they are religious.

    These are all areas which I think it is best to keep the state out of. I want a small state which does things like maintain roads and run hospitals and for it to leave people with as much of their own money and time as possible to use as they see fit; people can then make their own choices about what makes them, and others happy.

  14. Thank you to Mr Taylor for posting Dr Huppert’s speech – as he said it was not very easy to find!

    I would however like to respond to Frugal Dougal’s comment.

    As he might already know, most students live in three wards (Market, Castle and Newnham) which together return nine city councillors. Given that the Lib Dems hold 29 seats out of 42 on the council compared to Labour’s nine it should be obvious that the Lib Dems’ electoral success in Cambridge relies on more than just the students! And Lib Dem support in those three wards is very strong among non-students as well.

    I do sometimes wonder why students are seen as some kind of democratic problem. Why should we have to have segregated constituencies when no one else does?

  15. One reason for students being a “democratic problem” might be that they don;t pay Council Tax, so there could be an argument that they shouldn’t particupate in choosing those who administer the services funded by that tax. Another might be that their presence in Cambridge is essentially “short term” so they have less direct commitment to developments that go beyond their temporary residence.

  16. I take it Huppert’s reference to the blue “swamplands” of the friends, refers to his conservative coalition partners, who represent the rest of this region. I am not clear if he is offering himself as a bridge to communicate with them, given their doubtful commitment to his laudable aims to reduce inequalities in the city and beyond.

  17. How many students live in wards like Romsey and Petersfield? These are Labour/Lib Dem marginals (heading in more of a Lib Dem direction in recent years) and so are probably better examples of where the student vote can really make a difference.

    When I was at University I lived in Coventry for just one year of a four year degree and voted in my local ward. I don’t remember knowing too much about the local issues.

    But having said all that, there are undoubtedly some students who are better informed than “local” people. There are also students who spend many years living here, versus “young professionals” who start a new job in Cambridge and then leave within a couple of years. Which group are more committed to the City?

    Perhaps the real “democratic problem” with students is that there is nothing to stop them registering and voting in both their “home” and University constituencies. Obviously people shouldn’t be voting twice in different areas of the country.

  18. This blog article has been featured in the new free weekly newspaper “Cambridge First” (on page 10). The journalist has renamed Richard as “Roger Taylor”.

  19. David,

    Thanks for letting us know about that; the comment is on Huppert’s reference to the seven hills of Cambridge:

    Cambridge First Calling Richard Taylor, Roger Taylor

    Mine isn’t the only name Cambridge First got wrong in their new edition, as I paged through to page 10 to see what David was referring to I spotted an article in which they’d called the new Mayor, Cllr Bruce Stuart, Cllr Smith:

    Cambridge First gets Mayor's name wrong

    The 3rd June 2010 edition of Cambridge First is available for download as a 13MB PDF. The Cambridge First website also carries some of the paper’s content and there is a link to a Flash based online viewer for, which free registration is required to access.

  20. Richard, those last two links don’t work; try verifying them with a fresh browser instance. (Feel free to delete this posting when they’re corrected.)

  21. In Huppert’s maiden speech he said:

    We need to develop rigorous metrics to measure this well-being throughout society, and then ensure that we bear them in mind when developing policy.

    The first national well-being (happiness) report has now been published:


    It collates statistics on health, finance and crime along with responses to fluffier questions such as :

    Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?

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