The end of a year is when we tend to look back over what’s happened and forward to what lies ahead.
Among the friends we sadly lost in 2014 were Steve Williamson – so full of energy – and John Hodgson who was a Labour and union man to his fingertips. The big event of the year was, without doubt, the Tour de France which brought out the crowds and sent out a message about Leeds’ spirit and confidence (something the South Leeds festivals, galas and fairs have been doing, in their own way, for years). The most sobering development of the year? The growth of food banks as more and more people find themselves having to ask someone they’ve never met before for food because they can’t provide for their family. And, of course, the drama at Leeds United just seemed to carry on.
And as for next year? Well there’s the small matter of the general election in May, and then July will mark the tenth anniversary of the London bombings. What an awful day that was. I was at a Cabinet meeting in Downing Street when it became clear that something was going on. It was only when the meeting broke up and I walked into the room next door looking for a television that I saw the picture of a London bus with its roof blown off and realised what had happened. Little did any of us know at that moment how South Leeds would be drawn into this terrible tragedy.
And then, a few days later, came the news about the identities of the bombers. Three of them had close links to Beeston and Holbeck, including Mohammad Sidique Khan who had worked at a local primary school. Roads were sealed off, homes searched and the world’s media descended on a community that was in shock. And all the while, people asked each other “How? Why?”
Moments like this bring out the character – the heart – of a community, and the way the communities of South Leeds responded was nothing short of magnificent. We held together in the face of media intrusion and a crude attempt by the far right to stir up trouble (nipped in the bud by the police). But most of all we wanted to tell the world that that the places in Leeds that were filling the new bulletins represented the very opposite of the hatred that had led to the bombings. And so the marches, and the gatherings and the coach full of people that travelled to London to lay flowers at Kings Cross – that was a special moment – were all expressions of our determination not to be divided by what had happened.
And I suppose that’s the inspiration for my new year’s resolution. Cast aside cynicism, stop blaming others and get stuck in to helping one another. That’s what so many people and organisations do in South Leeds, and they represent the best of the human spirit.
Happy New Year.
Hilary Benn, MP for Leeds Central