Right hon. and hon. Members might not be aware that there is a town called Braintree in Massachusetts in America. My predecessor, Brooks Newmark, embodied that transatlantic bridge as he was born in Connecticut before he came to the UK to go to school at the age of nine.
Those who knew Brooks will remember a fierce intellect that drove success at both Oxford and Harvard universities and in the financial services sector. Any Member who was intimidated by that academic and commercial success need no longer fear now that I stand here in his stead.
Brooks was a Whip and a Minister and was well liked in the constituency. He was a huge support to me during my campaign and he was also supportive of other candidates in target constituencies, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester. It is fair to say that in the months after my selection Brooks and I hung out together quite a bit.
Since its creation, Braintree has had a history of strong MPs. Its first, Tony Newton, is still held up as a model constituency MP. He was able to do that while negotiating a successful ministerial career in the House. His Labour successor, Alan Hurst, was also highly spoken of, despite serving for considerably less than Tony’s 23 years.
Braintree has pre-Roman roots and was a medieval market town, but came into its own in the 16th century when Flemish weavers came to the town and brought with them their state of the art weaving techniques, heralding 250 years of future prosperity. Blooming foreigners!
The other town in my constituency is Halstead, which is also famous for its weaving industry and is typified by a wide high street leading up to the church at the top of the hill from the River Colne which runs through the town. My constituency stretches to the Suffolk border to its north and east and to Cambridgeshire in its north-western corner, and has a constellation of villages and hamlets scattered through it. In that constellation are a number of binary stars including Earls Colne and White Colne, Sible Heddingham and Castle Hedingham, and Steeple Bumstead and Helions Bumstead. There might be a degree of sibling rivalry between some of my villages. It is best not to ask directions to the famously beautiful village of Finchingfield from either of the neighbouring villages, Great Bardfield or Weathersfield.
It is appropriate in this climate change debate that I recognise the excellent work done by Braintree District Council. Many of the buildings in my constituency are adorned with solar panels, and I am a great believer in industrial, residential, agricultural and municipal buildings having solar panels, perhaps on their roofs, but I will fight hard to prevent the beautiful fields in my villages from being spoiled by row upon row of photovoltaic cells.
Small and medium-sized businesses typify my constituency and I will fight hard on their behalf. I hope the Government can help relieve congestion on the A120, a road so regularly and heavily congested that many drivers cut through Braintree in order to bypass the bypass. Rail services need to be greatly improved to unlock the business potential in my constituency. But transport infrastructure alone is not enough. We also need digital infrastructure. Mobile signals in the rural parts of my constituency are sorely needed, as is superfast rural broadband.
These parochial issues, important though they are, are not the only reason that we are collectively sent to this place. We live in an increasingly competitive global economy and we, as a nation, must rise to that challenge or be swept aside. The challenge from former colonial countries now competing and in some cases overtaking us cannot be ignored. Throughout our nation’s history we have been at our best when we are globally focused on international trade—when we are indeed a nation of shopkeepers. I will fight for infrastructure investment in my constituency and for a good deal for my constituents, but I will also fight to keep this nation an internationally focused competitive trading nation.