Hilary reading South Leeds Life
Hilary reading South Leeds Life

Gaza, transport and climate change

Sometimes, things happen out of context. I was recently in Northern Ireland and visited the Harryville Men’s Shed just outside Ballymena. It’s a drop in centre for men of all ages who feel lonely or isolated, and it provides a range of activities from a cup of tea and a listening ear to DIY and plant growing. They have recently bought a nice polytunnel and have high hopes for the vegetables it will produce this summer.

Imagine my surprise when I saw on the wall a clock made out of a circular saw blade on which someone had painted the Hunslet Rugby League Club crest. I thought there must be a supporter living locally, but it turned out that one of their members had made it especially for me because they knew I was coming to visit and that I was the club’s Honorary Patron. I was deeply touched. Hunslet’s fame has clearly spread far and wide.


Lots of people have written recently asking me to support an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and the House of Commons has now agreed to call for one.

In the world of parliamentary procedure, motions and amendments – and especially after the unseemly behaviour of some MPs in Parliament on the 21st of February – it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the stand which our elected representatives are taking. So I’m glad I now have the opportunity to write back to those constituents who contacted me to say very simply “I backed an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.”

International pressure for a ceasefire is growing, including now from the United States of America, as the crisis in Gaza continues to worsen. Far too many innocent Palestinians, including women and children, have been killed in Israeli military operations and this must stop. Israel must not blockade Gaza. They need to comply with international law by protecting innocent lives and deal with the humanitarian crisis. The death and destruction has been intolerable to witness as more and more Palestinians are pushed into a small corner of land at the bottom edge of Gaza. An Israeli military incursion into Rafah would be utterly disastrous because of the loss of life it would entail. It cannot happen.

The sad truth, however, is that votes in overseas parliaments won’t mean that the people of Gaza will be able to stop fearing bombs and missiles coming out of the sky, it won’t mean that people in Israel can feel safe because they don’t think there will be another attack from Hamas and it won’t free the hostages. The only people who can actually make a ceasefire happen and free those who have been taken are the leaders of the two sides who have been fighting. I long for the day when they will show the kind of courageous political leadership that is required to change the course of this conflict. And when we do finally see a ceasefire, we need the same political leaders to get to work on a political process towards a viable two state solution. It is the only way to prevent this terrible tragedy from happening again and again


The fact that Leeds is the largest city in Europe without a rapid transit system surprises many people when they discover this is the case. As avid readers of South Leeds Life will know there’s a long and rather torrid history to how this happened. So, I’m pleased to be able to report – following a recent briefing by the West Yorkshire Mayor’s team – that planning is underway for improvements to public transport in Leeds and across West Yorkshire, including the first stage of a tram system. We will, of course, need continued funding from government, but I think there’s an opportunity now to develop a more integrated service and a move further in the direction of zero carbon transport in the process. As it so happens, on the same trip to Northern Ireland recently I went to visit Wrightbus in Ballymena. They manufacture buses and 90% of what they produce are now powered by electricity or hydrogen. On my tour around their very impressive factory, I spied a new electric bus that is being made for Leeds. It looked very splendid in its purple and grey colours.

The factory also tells another very important story. A few years ago it was at risk of closure until a new owner bought it and decided to invest in a zero carbon future. It has expanded rapidly, taken on new staff, developed innovative technologies and is a wonderful example of the opportunities that lie ahead for our society if we see the move to net zero as the great opportunity it is, rather than something to be feared.


We have had some unseasonably warm weather of late, including an all-time record January temperature in the UK of 19.6°C. It’s proof of our changing climate and if we go back over time we can see this change show itself in other ways. A few years ago an ecologist from Coventry University looked back to 1919 at photos and film taken on Remembrance Sunday in London to examine the trees in the background. They were the same plane trees that you can still see in Whitehall today, but in the early 20th century they had no leaves on them at all, whereas in recent years not a single picture has been taken of a tree without leaves. This is telling us that the time around November 11th has been getting progressively warmer over the last 100 years. And for the weather fans among you, Wikipedia tells me that the highest temperature ever recorded in Yorkshire was 36C in near Beverley (in 2022) and the lowest was -19C in Topcliffe in 2010. And don’t even get me started on rainfall. Anyway, as the weather improves, happy gardening!

First published in the March 2024 edition of South Leeds Life, available online here https://southleedslife.com/mps-notebook-gaza-transport-and-climate-change/

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