Leeds MP Alex Sobel: Why my family story struck a chord

I found myself making headlines this week after a rather personal speech in the House of Commons for Holocaust Memorial Day.

Tuesday, 23rd January 2018, 10:38 am
Updated Tuesday, 23rd January 2018, 10:40 am
PIC: Tony Johnson

In the speech, I talked about my own family history and how as a young boy I would sit in the kitchen of my great Aunt and ask my father why she had no children and learn the horrors that the Nazis subjected her too.

It was very difficult for me to talk about.

I could feel my voice faltering as I described how the tests that she was subjected to in the concentration camps had left her without the ability to have children.

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I was surprised to see videos of my speech, which was made to relatively few people inside the Commons chamber, reach millions of people through major news outlets worldwide.

It hit home to me the fact that when MPs stand up and talk emotionally and honestly about how they feel about something, people will listen and connect with you.

Despite being difficult to talk about, I think that it is crucial we remember the horrors of the Holocaust both to respect its victims and to stand tall against hate and fascism in today’s world.

Acting to try and avoid new genocides happening today.

I have been touched by all those who have got in touch to thank me for telling my story and in some cases sharing their own family stories with me.

People bring me powerful stories every day in my advice surgeries and in emails and letters, they are also difficult stories to share and deserve to be heard and treated with the same sympathy and empathy that people have shown me.

It has underlined for me the importance of an MP in telling stories in Parliament and using them as a way to inspire change in society.

There have been some negatives to the attention that my speech in parliament gleaned.

When I started as an MP, I was advised to ‘never read the comments’ – but when you see several hundred comments underneath a video of a speech that is so personal, it is hard not to scratch the itch.

I was amazed how quickly I was dehumanised and my family stories were dismissed by those who like to hide behind social media. As an MP, I expect to receive a certain amount of abuse, especially online, but it did highlight to me the danger of such a mentality and its potential impact on vulnerable people.

Words are powerful, whether that is in telling stories to Parliament, or in a small seemingly harmless Tweet or Facebook post that has a real target and a real victim.

I would encourage as many people as possible to do something to commemorate the Holocaust. I will be attending several events over the next week, many of which you can find at www.hmd.org.uk

In other news, it has been great to sit on the Environmental Audit Committee and I am pleased to see that progress is being made in reducing the amount of single use plastic consumed in Britain.

It is also good to see clean air high on the agenda locally and I would encourage all Leeds residents to take 
part in the Clean Air Consultation. I will be visiting First Bus this week, pushing for positive improvements to our bus services as better buses mean fewer cars and lower emissions.

Alex Sobel is Leeds North West MP