MP’s Notebook: Year of Culture, Inflation, Safe Standing and the Holocaust

Preparations are now well under way for Leeds’ 2023 Year of Culture. We were one of five UK cities which originally bid to become the European City of Culture, but Brexit put paid to that. So, in typical no-nonsense fashion, Leeds decided to have a year of artistic and musical celebration anyway.

Ours has long been a city of great creativity, and Gabby Logan, who grew up in Beeston, has become the Chair of the Leeds Culture Trust. She rightly says that Leeds’ time in the cultural limelight “is long overdue.”

LEEDS 2023 will be the first large scale event of its kind in the city region and the aim is to put on events which bring people together as well as provide economic benefits, jobs and visitors. We all remember what the City of Culture in Hull was able to achieve, and now it’s our turn. And, of course, all around us we can see some of the institutions and individuals that form part of our rich cultural heritage.

We have theatres and music venues like Opera North, the City Varieties and the Playhouse and the Civic Trust blue plaques which commemorate, for example, The Who Live at Leeds (Leeds University), musician and bandleader Ivy Benson (Cemetery Road, Beeston), the Holbeck Working Men’s Club (where Morecambe and Wise once performed) and the writer Keith Waterhouse (Hunslet Library). Roll on 2023.

Inflation is rising and everyone is worried about the forthcoming sharp increase in energy bills. This is going to be really hard for communities in Leeds, and across the country, unless there is a plan to help people. I am supporting the proposal to save most households around £200 – including by scrapping VAT from everyone’s energy bills for a year – and to give an additional £400 to families and pensioners who need it most, to be paid for by a one-off windfall tax on booming oil and gas profits.

We all remember the terrible Hillsborough disaster which rightly led to the introduction of all-seater stadiums, but in recent years there has been a campaign to allow safe standing at football grounds. The Leeds United Supporters Trust, among others, has long been in favour of this and it’s a campaign that I have supported.

This is because the particular design of rail seating – where there is a rail in front of each individual seat – means that fans can stand safely. It is much safer than supporters standing up in existing seats where there is nothing to stop them from toppling forward. I was therefore delighted when it was announced that an official trial of safe standing would begin, and I hope that this will turn into a safe and popular choice in future for those fans at Elland Road who want to stand, while allowing those who like to sit to carry on doing so.

And on the subject of Leeds United, the club were proud to play a part in marking Holocaust Memorial Day which takes place every year on 27 January.

This is when we remember the six million Jewish men, women and children who were murdered during the Holocaust, the many other people who were killed or suffered under Nazi persecution and all those who died in the genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

As part of this year’s activities, the Premier League decided to remember a footballer called Julius Hirsch who was the first Jewish player to represent Germany at national level. He was also the first German player to score four goals in an international match.

Simply because he was a Jew, however, Julius was deported from Germany to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943. He thought that he would not be harmed because he had fought for Germany in World War I and played for the national football team, but he was murdered by the Nazis in 1945.

It is his story, and millions of others like it, that bring home to us why we must always remember. Germany was, after all, a prosperous European country and yet this is where the unspeakable horror and barbarity began.

Coming to power via the ballot box the Nazis then proceeded to destroy democracy and unleash their hatred against the Jews. What happened there shows how fragile democracy is and why we must always protect it. And the best way to prevent it from happening again is never, ever to forget.