I really didn’t want to start my first column of the autumn writing about machetes and zombie knives, but I feel I must. I’ve been campaigning for some time along with others, including the police, for the Government to take much more effective action to ban their sale and possession. We have seen them being used openly on the streets of Leeds, and tragically, people have been seriously injured and killed as a result.
Ministers have now finally announced plans to ban certain types of these weapons – I support this and they should get on with it as quickly as possible – but I’m not convinced that this will cover all the weapons that need to be taken off our streets. My argument is a very simple one. There is no justification for anyone in Leeds or elsewhere to be able to buy and possess a bladed weapon of this sort when we know what they are used for and what the consequences are for society. Enough.
We have all witnessed the off-shoring of jobs before – where roles that used to be done in the UK have been moved to other countries – but we’ve recently seen a particularly bad example of this with the proposal involving Capita – who are working on contract for Virgin Media – to declare over 250 staff at the Arlington Business Centre potentially redundant. The plan seems to be to move their jobs overseas, probably to the Philippines.
Many of those affected live in South Leeds and I’ve been by contacted by people who have worked at the Centre on various contracts of employment for more than 20 years. As one person said to me in an impassioned email:
“There is no loyalty or respect towards people like me who have given this company the best years of our working lives.”
What a terrible way to treat people. I’ve been in touch with the CWU which is determined to provide every possible support to their members – a reminder of how important trade unions are – and Rachel Reeves and I have written to Virgin Media about this. They are claiming that it’s a matter for Capita but regardless of how pass the parcel is played with people’s jobs, those responsible should do the right thing and abandon their plans. Loyal workers deserve much better than this.
A few reflections – inspired by watching the news (see below) – on some of the bridges that connect South Leeds to the city centre.
We are all familiar with Leeds Bridge where in 1888 the pioneer cinematographer Louis Le Prince filmed road traffic and pedestrians in one of the earliest moving films ever made. The film was shot from Hicks the Ironmongers on the southeast side of the bridge, and the site is today marked by a commemorative Leeds Civic Trust blue plaque. There was an excellent article about the history of Leeds Bridge by Ken Burton in 2021 in South Leeds Life.
Then there’s the Knights Way footbridge that I had the privilege of opening some years ago. It crosses the river just downstream of Crown Point Bridge and was named by a ten-year-old schoolgirl who won a competition. As I recall, there was someone from the Armouries dressed in shining armour and wielding a sword as the plaque was unveiled.
The newest footbridge, connecting Sovereign Street and Meadow Lane, is named in memory of David Oluwale, and close by is the bridge that inspired these thoughts – the Centenary Bridge at Brewery Wharf which now stars nightly in the background of the new Channel 4 News studio on the south bank of the river. It’s a bridge I have walked across many times and tonight – as I write this – it was bathed in the most glorious sunshine.
For several years, the bridge gradually accumulated more and more padlocks – symbols of romantic affirmation – before they were eventually removed. Their combined weight on the wires was causing concern. A few years previously, a section of the railing on the Pont Des Arts in Paris, which was festooned in these locks, actually collapsed.
I will always remember the police horse which rather unexpectedly crossed the bridge one day. Its hooves clanged loudly on the metal and the sound bounced off the walls of the surrounding buildings. And at night, if you stand in the middle of the bridge, you get a spectacular view all the way from Bridgewater Place to the Armouries, with the darkness of the river contrasting with the lights all around.
I’ll leave the last word to Martin Luther King, the great American civil rights campaigner, who once said
“Let’s build, bridges, not walls.“ Hear, hear.
And finally, a big thank you. Once again, the summer festivals and galas in South Leeds – Hunslet, Beeston and Holbeck – were a huge success and most enjoyable and the Middleton Park Show will soon be upon us. As ever, none of them would happen without the hard work and dedication of the organising committees and volunteers who make it all possible. We all owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
Hilary Benn is our Member of Parliament. He represents the Leeds Central constituency which covers South Leeds as well as other parts of the city.
Constituency office: Unity Business Centre, 26 Roundhay Road, Leeds, LS7 1AB; Tel: 0113 244 1097
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