Hilary Benn - Member of Parliament for Leeds Central
I recently attended a service at Leeds Minster to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the end of the Falklands War.
Many of us remember it only too well. The shock of the Argentine invasion. The departure of the British Task Force. The sinking of the Sheffield. Brian Hanrahan’s famous report on the Harriers that took off from HMS Hermes; “I counted them all out and I counted them all back”. The fighting during the landings at San Carlos Water. The fire on the RFA Sir Galahad. The ferocious battles at Goose Green and Mount Tumbledown. And the Union Jack being raised once again over Port Stanley.
Retaking the Falklands had to be done because we could not allow the Argentinian dictatorship to invade our territory and take it over against the wishes of its British inhabitants. And we all owe our brave forces a huge debt of gratitude for their courage and sacrifice .
The army chaplain Nicholas Mercer who gave the sermon talked about the effects of the war on the mental health of our service personnel, and very sadly some of those who served have since taken their own lives. It’s a sobering reminder of the huge strain that we put on the young shoulders of those whom we ask to fight on behalf of our country.
But he also talked about humanity in the midst of injury and death. There was a British army surgeon called Rick Jolly whose job it was to treat all the casualties as they arrived at the field hospital, British and Argentinian alike. One day he looked down at a very scared and wounded young Argentinian conscript and said to him “There’s no need to worry. You’re among friends now.” Surgeon-Captain Jolly was the only serviceman in the war to be honoured by both the British and Argentinian sides.
Reconciliation after such terrible loss and suffering is very hard, but time passes. And whenever the relatives of the British and Argentinian dead come to pay their respects, they are welcomed by the Falkland Islanders.
It was an extremely moving occasion.
The crisis in NHS dentistry in Leeds and across the country is getting worse. I’m getting an increasing number of emails from constituents who can’t find an NHS dentist, even in an emergency. We recently had a debate in the House of Commons about this and I asked the Health Secretary Sajid Javid about the case of my constituent who contacted me recently. After developing a terrible toothache, he rang 40 dentists to ask whether they would see him but none of them would because they weren’t taking on any more NHS patients. He then rang 111 and was told that he did not qualify to see an emergency dentist. Eventually, he had to agree to pay for private treatment, even though he could scarcely afford it.
Lots of MPs could tell exactly the same story, and one shared in the debate was the hair-raising tale of a man who was in so much pain that he even tried to extract his own tooth with a pair of pliers but they kept slipping. We all winced when we heard that. The simple fact is that dentists are leaving the profession and the dental contract isn’t working to provide the care that we need. Ministers need to do something about this urgently.
I much enjoyed my recent visit to Low Road primary school to see a project they are doing with Sky Arts on promoting various aspects of the arts. The class I was in was looking at film and after we watched a wonderful bit of footage taken in Boar Lane at the end of the 19th century, the pupils discussed the differences between then and now. There were horse-drawn carts, Hansom cabs, electric trams – the height of modernity at the time – women in long formal dresses and men in top hats and caps. And a single policeman doing his best to control the traffic with no lines on the roads anywhere and no traffic lights. The idea was to inspire each of the groups to then go and make their own film which will be stored in a virtual time capsule. What a great idea. It was such an inspiring session that I’ve no doubt that there will be film makers of the future amongst the pupils I met and chatted to.
And finally, one of the delights of knocking on doors, which I do rather a lot, is getting the chance to admire other people’s gardens. It’s a point of connection and conversation when the door opens, and I particularly enjoy a finely cut lawn or a well-trimmed privet hedge (mainly because my own efforts compare rather poorly), never mind lots of beautiful plants and flowers. My wife is the expert at identifying plants, while I am hopeless. However, I recently discovered an app that does the job. You simply take a picture of the plant and the app tells you what you are looking at, how big it grows, what conditions it needs to prosper, etc. It is very clever, but there are a couple of downsides. One is explaining to people why a strange man who claims to be their local MP is leaning down and photographing their prize plants, and the other is that it makes me even slower at door knocking than I was already. But then I do like a good chat as well as admiring lovely gardens.