Political constituency focus: Residents in Leeds North East have their say on the vital issues
In the run up to the General Election on December 13, 2019, the Yorkshire Evening Post has been out in communities across the city, speaking to residents about the issues that matter to them. Here in the first part of our community focus series, ALISON BELLAMY reports from Leeds north east, a ‘safe’ Labour seat, where she finds anger, political apathy and despair about the state of the nation.
The constituency of Leeds North East has neighbouring communities which live worlds apart, in terms of achievement, aspiration, education and poverty levels.
The area has some of the wealthiest people in our city living in multi-million pound properties in sought after areas near Roundhay Park; while others a couple of miles away are living in run-down bedsits, in areas like Chapeltown.
Chapeltown itself is a thriving, creative inner-city suburb, with the world famous Leeds West Indian Carnival headquarters putting Leeds firmly on the map.
Nearby is the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, and the area certainly adds to the city’s outstanding cultural portfolio.
In Sensations, a barbershop on Chapeltown Road, I meet well-known Leeds DJ Trini (short for Trinidad) and his four-year-old son Teon.
DJ Trini, who organises events, said: “It is important for people to vote, the young, the old, please have your say.”
As a DJ, who also runs family friendly events, he is a role model to many young people and the father of a young child: “The country is in a mess. I do hope more young people make their vote and have a say. Change is needed in the UK at the moment.”
Chapeltown is home to a cultural mix of different nationalities, with a large community of the population originally hailing from the Caribbean. The relatives of many I speak to, first arrived in Leeds during the 1950s and 60s, with the Windrush generation.
Next door to the barbers in the Dutch Pot, a popular Caribbean eatery and take-away on Chapeltown Road, Christopher Douglas, 46, is serving hot fried chicken on a rainy afternoon.
There is lots of laughter and a warm welcome when I ask people to tell me about their political stance.
Christopher says people are angry and times have never been so bad: “Ordinary working people are suffering because of what the Government is doing to us. We’ve got no pay rise, health is in crisis, social services is in crisis, youth services in crisis.
“What is this country coming to? When I first came to this country I had never heard of food banks, now they are all over the place. Working people cannot afford to put food on the table.
“To the people in Parliament: you guys have it all; your kids have it all. My kids do not have it all, I am just trying to get there. What are they going to do for me to make my family life better?
“I am definitely voting because of this Brexit, it is pulling this country apart. We need someone to take us forward, not backwards.”
Others in the cafe say they definitely won’t be voting. Some don’t want to be in the system and say they don’t even get a voting card; while others say that there is no point, as it will make no difference to their lives.
They say Labour is the traditional vote for people living here and there is a lot of negative talk about Boris Johnson and how people have absolutely no connection with him. They think he does not have the interests of ordinary folk at heart.
There is talk about Windrush and the various hardships and racism black people have faced over the decades, and are still facing today.
Customer Everan McKenzie, 51, says he won’t be voting: “What can I vote for? Nothing. Poor people are suffering, old people, young kids, they have nothing in Chapeltown. Who am I going to vote for? They are there for the money. They don’t care for poor people.
“They are all rubbish, they are a bunch of rubbish.”
Over the road in the Kalabash cafe, which serves West Indian food, worker John Jerome says: “I think it’s very important we should vote next month. Our future is dependant on being in or out of Europe. I think we should stay in and remain, as stronger together.”
The Leeds North East patch comprises the wards of Alwoodley, Chapel Allerton, Moortown, and Roundhay.
Since 1997, Labour’s Fabian Hamilton has been MP and it is considered to be a Labour ‘safe seat’, after Mr Hamilton won the last General election in June 2017 with a majority of 16,991, and a comfortable 61 per cent of the vote, with a 76 per cent turnout.
The constituency includes the suburbs of Moortown and Alwoodley, where many of Leeds’s 8,000 Jewish population lives and where most of the community’s synagogues are located.
Meanwhile, a mile or so up the road from Chapeltown, in more affluent Chapel Allerton, I find a flood of trendy cafes and bars and hear it is home to property-owning families and young professionals who rent.
I am told the majority of residents are Labour voters, apart from odd pockets of Conservative supporters and a few Green Party stalwarts.
In The Little Bookshop, which has a cafe inside, lifelong Labour supporter Matthew Hoskins, 55, is sitting with his daughters as they read.
He says he will vote, but has reservations about the state of relationships within his chosen party: “I have been a Labour voter forever. I am probably going to vote Labour, but I am worried about the outcome and also very worried about the Labour Party. I hate all the hatred that is going on.”
Alison Curnow, of Chapel Allerton, says: “My heart is Green; that is the way I have voted in the local council elections, but I would imagine that it will probably be Labour this time in the General Election, as I can’t see the smaller parties posing any particular threat to Labour, but I find the Labour Party dysfunctional within itself. I struggle to understand what they are trying to do, but I would certainly never ever vote for Boris Johnson.”
Student Adam Mills, 17, from Chapel Allerton, is working behind the counter in his part-time role, alongside studying for A levels.
He is knowledgeable and politically aware, but feel his hands are tied as he cannot vote until he is 18. He says:: “I can’t vote in this election as I am 17. I have a job and I am doing my A levels, which will determine what I do in the future, but I can’t vote, so my hands are tied.
“A lot of my friends are in the same position. But if I could vote, I would almost definitely vote Labour, or Green.”
Lesley Mais, from Moortown Corner, says she feels she is unable to vote this time: “None of the parties are doing anything that I particularly want them to do. Until I find one that I can really in my heart feel is doing what I want them to do, then I don’t think at the moment I can vote.
"I think we are in a total mess about Brexit. We need to sort it out. The country needs to come first.”
Leeds North East candidates for the General Election 2019
Amjad Bashir - The Conservative Party
Celia Foote - Alliance to Green Socialism
Fabian Hamilton - Labour Party
Jon Hannah - Liberal Democrats
Rachel Hartshorne - Green Party
Inaya Iman - Brexit Party