Labour’s Teresa Pearce marked her last day as the MP for Erith and Thamesmead by paying a powerful tribute to her husband and family in the House of Commons.
Pearce, the area’s MP since 2010, spoke on the final day of parliament before the beginning of the election campaign. From today, are no MPs until after polling day on Thursday 12 December.
She is one of more than 60 MPs who have chosen to stand down – her local party members chose Abena Oppong-Asare to replace her as Labour candidate last Friday.
“I’d like to thank my fantastic family, my friends, and my staff, who are amazing, all the people I’ve been working with in here and in the constituency,” she told the chamber.
“But most of all, I’d like to thank my husband, who nine years ago put his life, dreams and ambitions on hold, so I could follow mine,” she added, before waving to Paul O’Neill, who is also Pearce’s office manager, was watching from the public gallery.
The couple married in 2014, the same year that O’Neill caused a stir by standing for Labour along with two other O’Neills in the seat of Bexley Council’s Conservative leader Teresa O’Neill.
‘Always the bins’
She joked about the expectations placed on MPs, saying that in her first year alone she had 22,000 emails from constituents. “The level of expectation from people is that you can solve everything, from mice in their flat to conflict in the Middle East and, of course, the bins – there’s always the bins.”
The final day of parliament came as MPs passed a bill to give redress to victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland.
“I could talk about what I’ve achieved, but what I’ve achieved here is because of my parents. Both of my parents were brought up in care. My mother in the infamous Nazareth House that we heard about earlier, my father by the Christian Brothers, and I can give personal testimony to the damage done to them for the whole of their lives.
“The shadow minister asked, what must those children have thought of adults? How could they ever trust? Well, I can tell you they never did. It became increasingly difficult as they got older, when we needed carers to go in… because everybody who came in they thought was from the authorities, they sacked that day. They feared, to the very end of their lives, losing their liberty, because they’d lost it as children when they’d been incarcerated.
“It is testimony to my parents that they never visited upon myself, or my sister Rose, the horrors of their childhood. It is testimony to them that I am an MP now.”
‘Time to pass the baton’
“It is a privilege to hold the office of MP,” she added. “I left school at 17, got married soon after, became a mother, and found myself at 18 deserted by my husband, facing the world alone, with a small baby, bleak prospects while the rest of my friends went to university.
“But thanks to a small council flat in Belvedere, a GLC-funded day nursery and a Bexley Council-funded careers adviser, I was set on the road to independence, self-respect and a career. I’ve been successful and my family thrived because society invested in me. That investment has been paid back over and over. Sadly, those services no longer exist for many who find themselves in the same circumstances and do not have that ladder.
“In fact, the safety net of the welfare state that saved me no longer exists in that real sense. It is more like a trap door that you fall through and may never get back. That is why I have spent the last nine years trying to speak up for Erith and Thamesmead so that my neighbours can have the same opportunities that I had so they can turn around their lives when they fall on hard times.”
Pearce thanked her constituents for their backing, adding it was “now time to pass the baton on to someone else… I am sure they will show her the same support”.
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