Recently I met with local police at Killingbeck Police Station to discuss their work and the challenges they face here in East Leeds. I then went out on patrol with PC Bob Mortimer and PC Wayne Johnson in Seacroft and in Gipton.
It was great to see for myself the important work that they do. Many people think that the job of the police is solely arresting people. It's far more than that and it was great to see challenging situations dealt with so effectively.
I was very impressed with PC Mortimer and PC Johnson and it was good to get the chance to, on behalf of the people here in East Leeds, say, "thank you" for all the work they do, often in very difficult circumstances, in our area.
Chapel FM in Seacroft here in East Leeds is one of my very favourite places.
On Thursday 23rd March, at lunchtime and in the evening, Chapel FM showed "I, Daniel Blake" - Ken Loach's powerful attack on the way the Government treats people who are out of work.
After both screenings, a short film about experiences of the benefits system here in East Leeds was also shown.
The film was made by the "Dole Animators" group - people in East Leeds who had struggled with the way they were treated by the system and was very powerful.
Also after each screening, I took part in a panel discussion chaired by Killingbeck and Seacroft Labour Councillor Catherine Dobson.
The panel members included a benefits expert from GIPSIL in Gipton, Professor Ruth Patrick from Liverpool whose study of the welfare system - "For Whose Benefit?" - is out soon and Margaret, who featured in the "Dole Animators" film.
There was a good turnout at both screenings and the local people who turned out - including people with experience of struggling with the welfare system and food bank users and volunteers - raised great points, ideas and questions.
A better discussion than many of the discussions in Parliament on this issue!
Thanks, as ever, to Adrian and all at Chapel FM for hosting this event in the heart of our community at what is a wonderful, wonderful centre.
This Sunday, like many other people from our area, I'll be attending the annual Remembrance Ceremony in Victoria Gardens in Leeds city centre, as we remember the ordinary men and women - particularly those from Leeds - who lost their lives in conflict, as we continue to mark the centenary of World War I.
This year, alongside other conflicts, we mark 100 years since the Battle of the Somme. Estimates suggest that over four months, on this 15 mile front, casualties reached over one million on all sides. This is where the historian AJP Taylor said, "idealism perished".
We will never know exactly how many were killed and wounded, but casualties were on such a scale and in such a short period of time, as to make it difficult to today comprehend the impact of the battle for that generation.
This year I've tried to find out a bit more about the connection between the casualties on the Somme and our local communities here in Leeds. The war and the recruitment of the Pals Battalions in 1914 took a whole generation of young men from their local communities, their workplaces, their sports teams, and the Battle of the Somme meant that many never returned home to Leeds.
One of the units sent 'over the top' on 1st July 1916 was the 15th Battalion of the Prince of Wales Own West Yorkshire Regiment - better known as the 'Leeds Pals' Battalion.
The Leeds Pals battalion arrived in France in 1916 and as part of the plans for the Battle of the Somme, were positioned alongside other Pals battalions from Bradford and Durham and tasked with capturing the village of Serre - around eight miles north of the Somme.
One can only imagine the feelings of the men of the Leeds Pals, knowing they would be ordered to climb out of the trench and walk towards the German lines. Reports state that their trenches were already under heavy fire ahead of 'Zero Hour', when they would have been lining up.
Two units had to climb out and take up advance positions in 'No Man's Land' ahead of the attack. Many accounts recall how the Leeds Pals put fear to one side as they advanced into No Man's Land. But the Leeds Pals never reached the village of Serre. At 7.30am, the whistles blew for a 'general advance' and within just a few minutes, most of the battalion was shot down and most of the Leeds Pals lives had been cut tragically short.
Some of the Leeds Pals who survived wrote about their experience. Edward Woffenden wrote: "Terrible bombardment by both sides from midnight. Almost half the battalion out of action before zero hour. Lads mown down by machine gun fire as they advanced". Arthur Pearson wrote: "Men fell rapidly under fire ... I came across some of our company in a shell hole. Here we huddled, sheltered from the bullets but battered by shrapnel. First one man got hit, then another". Cyril Cryer wrote: "I was sent over to find out how the first wave of attack had got on and what advance they'd made, and there was no actual sign of anybody, they'd all been wiped out".
A Private Bristow estimated that those who went over the top numbered, "750 out of the 900 in the Battalion, and only 72 survivors". Laurie Milner, a historian of the Leeds Pals, says the records show 528 casualties. What we can be clear about is the fact that many hundreds of men from Leeds did not survive the first day on the Somme.
But they were more than numbers. We should remember them as men who lived in Leeds, worked in Leeds, drank in pubs and played football and cricket in Leeds. Those volunteers included ordinary working class men like John Morton a tailor from Manston aged 24; Arthur Dobson, a warehouseman from Colton aged 27; brothers Wilfred and Walter Joy, aged 21 and 27, from Harehills; brothers Reginald and Gerald Willkinson,aged 24 and 31. Gerald worked at Cross Gates railway station - a station I use every week.
When we take a moment to consider who volunteered and who was conscripted, where they came from and what they did, we see the real cost of the battle, and real cost of the First World War. That experience affected communities across Britain, but also in France and Germany and elsewhere.
So when I again stand in Victoria Gardens on Sunday, I will take a moment to remember the men and women who died in the war - including the men of the Leeds Pals Battalion. Always remembered - never forgotten.
Photo from Leodis - Leeds Libraries Photographic Archive.
On Sunday 26th June I wrote the following article for LabourList on the Labour Party leadership. You can read the original here.
On Monday 27th June I appeared on BBC Newsnight discussing the same issue. The video is below.
The plot to oust Jeremy Corbyn is anti-democratic and offensive to Labour members
Here in Yorkshire, Labour voters and Labour members have been asking me what on earth some of our Labour MPs are up to.
They are telling me that they just don’t understand why, with the Conservative Government up to its neck in trouble, the priority of some Labour MPs appears to be to make divisions in the Parliamentary Labour Party front-page news and engineer a coup against the democratically elected Labour Party Leader. They feel that some Labour MPs are letting the Conservative Government off the hook because they are consumed with resentment that Labour Party members elected Jeremy Corbyn as our Leader.
And leaders of 12 trade unions have called this “a manufactured leadership row” and called upon Labour MPs to stop this “indulgence”.
Just this afternoon a Labour member asked me “Why do these MPs who want to remove Jeremy want a Leadership election when the outcome of a Leadership election would be Jeremy being re-elected?”. The truth is, there are some MPs who either want to install a new leader without a leadership election or get a new leader through a Leadership Election in which Jeremy is prevented from taking part.
Outrageous? Anti-democratic? Offensive to ordinary Party members? That’s exactly the point. I’ve seen quite a few Labour activists on social media declaring that if a ‘coup’ takes place, they will leave the Labour Party in disgust. That’s exactly what those plotting to scrub out the Party’s democratic decision last summer want to happen. For some, a much smaller and less active Labour Party is a price worth paying for a return to the status quo that they’re comfortable with – a status quo which lost Labour 5 million votes between 1997 and 2010, saw Labour decimated in Scotland and saw Labour end up as being viewed as part of a political establishment that’s not to be trusted. For some, the plan is to reconfigure the Labour Party’s membership to one at ease with their Blair-inspired politics through the tactic of disrespecting members and the democratic process to such an extent that members resign in droves. Don’t discount a strategy of trying to impose some sort of “caretaker leader” for a year or two until enough members have resigned in disgust to mean that a leadership election can then take place in which a candidate with Blair-inspired politics has a decent chance of winning.
Not only are these MPs out of touch with Party members. They’re also out of touch with voters. It’s completely removed from reality to believe that the problem for Labour in working-class communities in the North is that Jeremy didn’t give an uncritical ‘hard sell’ of the EU. Even those MPs representing Northern constituencies in Parliament who are not from, and don’t live in, the North, should have realised that.
Voters are not impressed with Labour MPs sharing platforms with establishment Conservatives – either in Scotland or anywhere else. And voters aren’t demanding a return of Blairism. The truth is that because of Iraq and because of his dedication to chasing money around the globe since he stepped down as Prime Minister, Tony Blair and Blairism commands virtually no respect or affection amongst voters in the UK.
There is no future for Labour in a retreat from opposition to austerity. A return to acceptance of the neo-liberal economic framework which has seen good manufacturing jobs go abroad, wages and terms and conditions hit hard, public services damaged, getting a council house or a mortgage reduced to just a pipe-dream for millions and increasing resentment at the political process will spell the end of the Labour Party as a party which can connect with ordinary people.
The EU Referendum showed that people are angry with the political and economic establishment. Jeremy Corbyn and his ideas are part of the solution to enable the Labour Party to win the next General Election, whenever that may be. Divisive indulgence and attempts to turn the clock back to outdated and discredited approaches of the past won’t help the people and communities that Labour exists to represent and lets the Conservatives off the hook.
Politicians and pundits have done plenty of talking but the public has made its decision.
Any attempt by the Government to ‘wriggle out’ of the mandate the public has given to leave the European Union would be, in my view, deeply undemocratic.
Inevitably, the UK now enters a period of intensified political and economic uncertainty.
But the fundamental task remains the same as it would have done had Britain voted to remain in the European Union: to defeat the political choice of austerity economics which is hurting and holding back all but the super-rich and which is doing so much damage to our public services.
Reflection is also required in relation to the nature of the Referendum campaign. Some elements of both sides of the debate were guilty of sensationalist scaremongering. Much of the public feel that establishment figures – on both sides of the debate - didn’t treat them with the respect that they deserve. People don’t like being patronised, lectured at, lied to or subjected to scare tactics. Racist hatred should have no place in politics. And neither should establishment demonization of working class communities for having genuine and understandable concerns in an unfair and unequal society.
The people have spoken and there's lots of work to do. A better, fairer and more equal Britain, Europe and world is possible.
Delegates at GMB’s Annual Congress in Bournemouth heard about The Green care home in Leeds which faces an uncertain future on the 8th June. The GMB represents staff who work at the home. The Congress called on Leeds City Council not to close the care home and displace the vulnerable residents.
Cindy Gavin, GMB delegate from Yorkshire & North Derbyshire Region told Congress: 'Over 4000 people have signed an online petition calling for The Green to be saved and hundreds of people have protested and supported a paper petition instigated by East Leeds Labour MP Richard Burgon.'
Speaking at the Conference, I told the GMB,
'The GMB is doing the right thing by service users, families, staff and the local community by campaigning to save The Green care home in Seacroft in East Leeds. The Conservative Government’s ruthless cuts have hit Leeds City Council hard, but we believe that good quality council-run care homes for elderly local residents have to be an absolute priority.
The Care Quality Commission has confirmed that The Green provides better quality care than private sector competitors – including the privately run care home right next door to it. The staff are doing a great job and residents are happy there. I was in The Green the other week, talking with residents, including a 103 year old resident called Dorothy, who used to have a hairdressers’ shop in town.
Turfing out Dorothy and her fellow residents and sending them to an inferior care home they don’t want to go to would be a travesty. And we need to keep The Green open for future residents too. I hope Leeds City Council will work with local people who have loved ones in The Green, GMB and myself to keep The Green open and in public hands.'
I was delighted to be a guest speaker at the GMB manufacturing sector at GMB Congress in Bournemouth on 7th June.
In my speech I talked about the importance of trade unions, the need for a thriving and modern manufacturing base and why we need a Government that supports manufacturing, intervenes in the market where necessary and invests for long-term growth.
I also talked about the Labour Party and trade unions working together to challenge austerity economics and provide a real alternative to a Conservative Government that doesn't govern in the interests of the vast majority.
On 28th May I joined local councillors, trade union members and activists to petition shoppers at Seacroft Tesco store to support our local campaign to 'Save The Green' care home.
Hundreds of local residents signed up to show their support.
Local Cross Gates resident Laura Denbigh, whose grandfather is being cared for at The Green, has recently been featured in the Yorkshire Post on her campaign to save the home.
'The Green' has just been rated 'Good' by the Care Quality Commission, demonstrating as a council-run home it is better than its private sector competitors.
The Council is due to make a decision on the future of The Green on 22nd June, with the Health Scrutiny Board recommending against closure.
On Wednesday 6th April I met junior doctors on strike outside St James's University Hospital in East Leeds.
This was the fourth round of industrial action by members of the British Medical Association, in response to the Conservative Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt's, announcement that he would impose a new contract on junior doctors without agreement.
The Government has made no move to re-open negotiations, with the BMA, and the Government's own impact assessment of the new contract - which they carried out after asserting it would be imposed - found the contract may disadvantage women.
I had this to say:
"I was born in St James's Hospital and I am concerned that today at St James and hospitals across Leeds there are 1200 junior doctors affected by this dispute. I am visiting the hospital to hear these doctors concerns.
Public opinion, according to poll after poll, supports the junior doctors in this dispute. The Labour Party too recognises the huge contribution junior doctors make and regret that today’s industrial action has gone ahead, but puts the blame fairly and squarely on Jeremy Hunt who has lost the support of health care professionals.
Jeremy Hunt should hear this public concern and start by reversing his arrogant announcement that he will impose the contract without agreement in August. He should rule out any measures that will disadvantage women, who the NHS relies upon, and who are threatened by his contract. And he should then listen to the BMA’s real concerns about pay, staffing and rotas and listen to those on the ground about how we can go about improving our NHS.
Together, Labour members, BMA members, health workers and patients, must make clear to the Conservative Government that they do not have the right to treat health staff like this, nor to run our health service into the ground and we will stand up to defend it."
This week it was great to visit Sound Leisure in Crossgates in East Leeds.
Sound Leisure is a family-owned business that makes, amongst other things, the best juke-boxes in the world!
It was great to watch classic juke-boxes, made in East Leeds, being loaded up to go to Louisville in Kentucky in the USA!
Leeds - and the UK - needs a thriving, modern manufacturing sector and companies like Sound Leisure are part of the way forward.