"None of them are living on the breadline" - Leeds Central says election result will have nothing for them

From sex workers to skyscrapers and students. Leeds Central is probably one of the most varied constituencies in the city.

Wednesday, 11th December 2019, 6:00 am

But, as Emma Ryan discovers, there is a common theme and that is that people are still undecided as to where their vote will lie in the General Election.

Safe seat

On paper this is perhaps one of the safest seats going. It has been held by the same Labour MP, Hilary Benn, for going on 20 years. Prior to that, Derek Fatchett had been in post from the creation of the constituency in 1983.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Leeds Central ward covers a varied area of the city. This shows the city centre, university and student areas.

It covers the city centre, in particular the student quarters of Hyde Park and Woodhouse as well as Beeston and Holbeck, Burmantofts and Richmond Hill, Hunslet and Middleton Park areas.

But in that time, and indeed even since Mr Benn took over, Leeds Central has changed virtually beyond recognition.

Student numbers have beyond doubled, sex work has been legalised, Leeds has seen the fastest rate of private-sector jobs growth of any UK city and is the largest financial and legal centre outside of London.

But wherever you sit in this brief synopsis the message is one of confusion, distrust and indecision. There is an overwhelming feeling of ‘what’s the point?’ - yet people are adamant they will go to the polls.

Julie Zanetti has called for politicians to have a greater understanding of real life.

First-time voters

This is the first election that first year students, Jake Stokes (19) and Becca Jardine (18) are eligible to vote in. They are from Peterborough and can vote in Leeds or at home.

A business management student at Leeds Beckett, Mr Stokes said: “I can’t say I have a massive interest but coming up to the election I have kept an eye on it. I will vote but I am not sure yet which way to vote.

“I will read the manifestos and it (my decision) will be on what suits the country as a whole. I am trying not to be influenced by social media.”

Holbeck is the other end of the Leeds Central boundary with a varied community. Pictured are the back to back terraced houses.

Switching allegiance

Kevin Darbyshire, 61, is a retired nursing officer and has been a Labour voter in the past - but not this time.

As he enjoyed a pint in the Walkabout pub on Woodhouse Lane the question sparked much debate among his pals and he said getting Brexit sorted was one of the main reasons he is backing Boris.

He said: “Boris all the way. I have been a Labour voter previously but I would never have Corbyn. He is relying on the student vote but they don’t know the history behind this man. He won’t get the ex forces vote.

Kevin Darbyshire will be swapping allegiance and voting Conservative.

“Brexit will have a strong impact. 17.4m voted to come out and we are still in. I voted out, we should have left by now.”

Neither Niall Conlon (22) or Arnas Paulauskas, who are students at Leeds Beckett university, don't know much about current MP Mr Benn, they say, but both have been left baffled by manifestos, contradictory policies and social media.

Mr Conlon said: “I voted for Brexit and I voted remain. I would like to vote Labour, I like what Corbyn says but I think that he is a bit unrealistic.

“I like Corbyn, Boris is just get it done, Lib Dems are out - is it better the devil you know?

“I am so over consumed with information, whether it is social media, twitter, new publications - I just don’t know what to believe now.”

Mr Paulauskas is originally from Lithuania and says being in the EU has crippled his homeland.

Boarded up and abandoned properties in Holbeck.

“I stick to my own opinion because everything has its own agenda. It depends what you read, they will twist it.”

Holbeck

Meanwhile in Holbeck the backdrop, compared to the student area is more industrial, more of a solid community and you get the sense the leaning is to Labour votes.

Karen Cuthbertson works in Christine’s Cafe on Domestic Street. Like many others, she says she will vote but is still undecided as to which way.

She said: “I am going to vote, I am getting nagged to. To me, it is more that I would like to see action. You can vote for whoever you want but you get nowt. It does not change day to day.”

Bryony Redwood-Turner, however, is in no doubt.

“I am a Labour voter and I am finding Boris Johnson very toxic as a human being. Jeremy Corbyn presents a real opportunity for positive change and he has been portrayed negatively and consistently.

“This should be a straight forward Labour election. Austerity, how hard life is, these are Conservative made problems regardless of Brexit.”

Real life

But with its back to back terraces, swathes of empty industrial land, boarded up windows and bars over the doors and windows of people’s homes - day to day life is at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds with a resignation that politics doesn’t affect the likes of Holbeck.

Postwoman Julie Zanetti said: “I am going to vote but I think it is pointless. No-one will benefit. The last couple of years have been an absolute joke and a shambles, there is no way that whoever we vote for will work on our behalf.

“They need to get rid of everyone in parliament and get people that are working class, who know how it feels to have hardships, be single parents or families trying to live on universal credit and rising tax.

“They need to have people that come from honest, working class backgrounds. None of them are living on the breadline. It is a disgrace.”