We had a really good Big Conversation event at the St Matthew’s Community Centre in Holbeck last Friday. This is the second in a series of Big Conversations that I am holding around my constituency with our ward councillors. It works on a very simple basis. We invite local residents. They turn up – 50 of them braved the dark last Friday – and we discuss what they want to talk about.
One of the problems that was raised – perhaps not surprisingly – was rubbish. How we deal with litter, our rubbish, old sofas and fridges, etc is a really good example of how contributory politics works. The council provides rubbish bins, a regular bin collection, community skips and special collections for bulky items. In return we put our rubbish in the bin, put the bins out to be collected and ring up and book a visit to get that sofa taken away. It works because a sense of collective responsibility has created councils to provide the services to us, but it also requires each of us to do our bit.
It may seem like a mundane example, but there is a bigger truth here. Take the NHS. It was politics that created it, Mr Brand, with millions of people wanting free healthcare and then putting a cross on a piece of paper to ensure that it happened. We pay our taxes and in return we get medical care at the time we need it without being asked how much money we have in our purse or our wallet. Simple, radical, popular and it works. Before it existed, the idea of being able to call the doctor out regardless of how much money you had seemed like a dream. It was politics that changed that.
I think it’s time that contributory politics made a comeback. Consumerist politics has had its day, by which I mean a world in which we elect (or don’t elect) politicians and then expect them to solve all of our problems, complaining when it hasn’t happened pretty sharpish. I exaggerate a bit to make a point, but it’s why community groups and voluntary organisations, of which we have a huge and wonderful array in South Leeds, are so important. They show how contributing something, helping out, having an idea, being determined and never giving up can achieve things that cynicism never will. We get out what we put in.
And finally we have this week had cause to remember two groups of people who have lost their lives.
Last Sunday, it was of course the Service of Remembrance in the city centre. The day dawned crisp and clear and a huge crowd had come to pay their respects to the fallen. After the two-minute silence, we stand on the steps of the Town Hall as the old soldiers march past. I always look into their eyes and wonder what they saw and experienced, and I always think of my Dad’s older brother Michael who was an RAF pilot. He was killed a few weeks after D-Day. He was only 23 years old. Lest we forget.
And we are also thinking of all the people who have lost their lives in the Philippines as a result of Typhoon Haioyan; the pictures on our television screens have been awful. Tacloban may seem a world away from Belle Isle and Hunslet, but when fellow human beings are in trouble our natural instinct is to extend a helping hand. And the best way we can do that is to make sure we get tents, food, water, and medical supplies to those affected as quickly as possible.
I’ll be back next month, if the editors of the splendid South Leeds Life will have me ! And meanwhile, you can follow me on twitter @hilarybennmp