Gaza, Holbeck and School Visits
The appalling suffering in Israel and Gaza continues, although at the time of writing a truce to allow for the release of some of the hostages is about to happen. Many of my constituents feel very strongly indeed about the attack on Israel on 7th October and about what has happened to Palestinians since. The stories we have heard and the pictures we have seen are truly shocking, and the overwhelming and understandable cry is “make it stop”. I really hope that this truce can be extended to allow all the hostages to return home and for a political process to end the fighting.
The origins of this bitter and bloody conflict over land and displacement goes back many decades to the Holocaust and the Nakba (when Palestinians were forced out of their homes as Israel was created). Not surprisingly there are different and strongly-held views about how best to bring the fighting to an end so as to achieve a sustainable peace. What I find more difficult is the bitterness and vitriol with which some of these views are expressed, the unwillingness to recognise any suffering on the part of others, and a belief that the only way forward is the complete destruction of one side or the other. It helps no-one because down that route lies only more bloodshed and suffering when what is desperately needed is peace, compromise, and reconciliation.
In a big surprise the Government has announced that – after all – it will fund one of Leeds’ levelling-up bids to improve Holbeck. The bid, which Leeds City Council, our local councillors, Holbeck Together and other partners have been working on for some time, aims to deliver big changes in Holbeck. These will include renewing local infrastructure, transforming the inside of St Matthew’s – our local community centre – improving public and local green spaces and paying for green retrofit and property repairs. Holbeck will get £15.9m to do all this, and after all the hard work that was put into the bid and the strong support I gave it, it is good news that we can now get going, after a bit more inevitable paperwork!
It is poignant, however, that this good news came shortly after we learned that Dennis Kitchen had passed away. Dennis moved to Holbeck from Beeston in 1986, and became involved in the Holbeck Forum, helped to set up Holbeck in Bloom and played a hugely important role with Ian Pickup in saving Holbeck Working Men’s Club when it got into difficulties. He believed strongly that history – both preserving and recalling it – helps to root us in our community. As Dennis put it “A lot of people in Holbeck don’t realise what the history of the place is. I think that knowing that history can really be an anchor for local people.”
He also played a leading role in developing the Holbeck Neighbourhood Plan, a huge undertaking, that was all about the future of the area. He cared passionately about making things better and he will be much missed. All our thoughts go to Ian and his many friends.
Talking of the history of the Holbeck Working Mens Club, here’s my favourite story which I was told by someone. Long ago the Club committee were booking new entertainment acts to see how they went down so that they could decide whether to invite them again. Apparently, there was a comedy duo who came along one day and performed. The secretary was not very impressed, and they were never invited back. And who were they? Morecambe and Wise! That’s almost on a par, but not quite, with Decca’s decision not to sign the Beatles in 1962 because “guitar groups are on the way out.” Decca’s loss was of course Parlophone’s gain, and the rest – as they say – is history.
I really enjoy visiting schools and especially answering questions from pupils. Recently I have been to the Laurence Cockburn Academy and Westwood Primary School while Park View Primary Academy came to visit the House of Commons. There are some perennially popular questions – why did you want to become an MP, have you met the King, what does the Speaker do, or why is there a mace in the House of Commons – but also lots of others. I particularly like trying to explain the way we vote and the rather arcane language we use while doing so.
For example, when the Speaker says “As many as are of that opinion, say Aye” he’s saying “if you are favour of this, say Aye” or when he shouts “Division” he is calling a vote. At which point we literally divide by going into different lobbies on either side of the main chamber. We record our presence using a card reader and then we queue up to be counted by the tellers as we file out at one end. The figures are then reported to the Speaker and he says either “The Ayes have it” or “the Noes have it”. It’s a bit strange at first but it’s been done like this for a very long time, apart from the card readers which are a recent technological innovation. Anyway, the pupils seem to like acting the whole thing out because it brings it to life.
And on the subject of life, as this is my last column of the year, may I take this opportunity to wish you and your family and loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
First published in the December 2023 edition of South Leeds Life, available online here https://southleedslife.com/mps-notebook-gaza-holbeck-and-school-visits/