Hilary Benn - Member of Parliament for Leeds Central
Our right to vote was hard-won and is very precious. This May the way we vote will be changing because we’ll all need to show specified photo ID at the polling station in order to be given a ballot paper. Acceptable forms of ID include a passport, driving licence, a blue badge, an Older Person’s Bus Pass and a biometric immigration document. The full list is available on the Electoral Commission website.
If you don’t have any of these then you can apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate. To do this, you will need to provide your details, NI number (if you have one) and a photo. The deadline for applications for this May’s local elections is 5pm on Tuesday 25 April 2023. You can apply online to the Electoral Commission or ask the Leeds elections office to send you a form by post.
I’m really worried about this change and the way it’s being implemented because I fear it will lead to a lot of people losing their right to vote. Research has shown that only a third of voters are aware of the change, and only 1% of the estimated two million voters who don’t currently have an acceptable form of ID have so far applied for a Voter Authority Certificate. Given these figures, the Government ought to postpone the implementation of this change.
You may be wondering why it’s happening. The Government claims it’s to prevent fraud, but the number of cases of fraudulent voting is miniscule. I think this is about providing a supposed answer to a non-existent problem.
However, the law has been changed and it’s really important that everyone is made aware of what it means. For example, one issue I’ve come across is the case of someone who was registered to vote in her maiden name, but all her forms of voter ID contained her married name. There were two things she could do – either change her name on the electoral register by contacting the Leeds elections office or apply for a Voter Authority Certificate. She sorted it out by doing the former, but make sure you have what you need so you can still vote !
The 24th of February marked the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A huge number of people have lost their lives and many cities and neighbourhoods have been destroyed in this unprovoked and brutal act of aggression by President Putin. It is vital that we continue to support the people of Ukraine as they try to resist the invaders, including by providing the weapons they need in order to do so.
Two weeks ago, President Zelensky made his historic trip to Parliament where he addressed us, and President Biden recently visited Kiev to demonstrate America’s support. I have also met the Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK who spoke to me about the hardship the people of Ukraine are having to endure. On the anniversary of the Russian invasion, a large number of Ukrainian refugees gathered for a vigil in Dortmund Square in Leeds city centre to remember all those who have been killed and injured and to express solidarity with the brave Ukrainian forces who are fighting to defend their country.
We should be really proud of the fact that as a city we have given such a warm welcome to those from Ukraine – mainly women and children – who have come to Leeds to seek shelter. It is very hard for us to imagine what it must be like to be forced out of your home by war, state violence or persecution and then have to flee to another country. So ask yourself this question: if it happened to us, how would we like to be treated?
More and more people have been contacting me to complain about train services and cancellations. It is frustrating, stressful and makes getting to work a lottery. I have had most complaints about TransPennine Express – a somewhat unfortunate name for a service that is anything but reliable.
The full extent of the cancellations on this line were recently published by the rail regulator. Over four weeks, TransPennine cancelled 1,048 trains before 22:30 on the day before they were due to run – a much higher figure than any other train company. The rail regulator said “For a passenger this could mean that a train they expected to catch when they went to bed can disappear from the timetable by the time they leave for the station unaware that the train has been cancelled.”
Frankly, things are so bad that I’m calling on the Government to take away the franchise and bring it back under public control.
And finally, while we’re on the subject of transport difficulties, my aging car has been in the garage for repair after a series of mechanical failures. There are some benefits, however. I’ve been walking everywhere which is enabling me to get my steps in. You do notice a lot more when you’re travelling at 3 miles an hour as opposed to 20 or 30. And when the sun has been out and everything seems brighter, I have really enjoyed the snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils as they emerge from winter hibernation and herald the coming spring.
First published in the March 2023 edition of South Leeds Life, available online here https://southleedslife.com/newspaper/back-issues-2023/