Political constituency focus: Residents living in Leeds East have their say on the issues that matter

In the run up to December’s General Election, the YEP has been out in communities across the city, speaking to residents about vital issues.

Monday, 9th December 2019, 6:00 am

Here, as part of the YEP’s Constituency Focus series, Alison Bellamy reports from Leeds East, a Labour stronghold for more than 100 years, where she finds anger about Brexit, confusion about politicians and hears about the struggle facing local business.

Shoppers in Cross Gates are not mincing their words when it comes to their views about the state of politics.

Maybe they reflect the manner of long-standing former MP, the late Denis Healy, who has gone down in history as one of the ‘Labour Greats’.

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Kirstie Cale, of Art and Flowers, on Austhorpe Road, Cross Gates, Leeds

As well as being famous for his bushy eyebrows, he was also Chancellor of the Exchequer during his reign and a prominent Labour front bencher. He was the MP for almost four decades from 1955 to 1992, until he was succeeded by George Mudie.

Leeds East has been a Labour seat for more than 100 years, since 1906 when it won the election with a gain from the Conservatives.

On Austhorpe Road, the charity shops are busy and there is a queue forming at Wilson’s Butchers, as scores of people go in and out of the Cross Gates Centre.

A few people are upset about the politicians themselves and the statement: “They are all as bad as each other” is mentioned more than once. Others say they are not voting as there is no point.

Austhorpe Road in Cross Gates, Leeds

Over at Art and Flowers, a family run business which has been established for 43 years, trade is busy as usual.

The popular flower and gift shop is owned by Kirstie Cale, whose parents ran the shop before her. She was three when they bought it and has worked there for around 30 years.

Kirstie, who employs nine staff, has plenty to say about the General Election, as voting day looms on December 12.

She said: “I will be voting. But I have real concerns as a small business owner about the hike of the minimum wage. I am not sure where they, the Government, expect this magic money to appear from? I would love to pay my staff more, but it simply won’t be possible.”

Crystal Kay, 30, of Whinmoor, (left) will not be voting in the General Election 2019

She said employment laws had changed already in recent years, so employers as well as the staff pay their National Insurance contributions and lots of other costs means it is difficult to employ as many people as she would like.

She added: “If the living wage goes up to 10 or 11 pounds an hour, I don’t want to have to put prices up. We sell a luxury, not a necessity, so it would make our business struggle and for a shop which is busy and popular, with no shortage of customers, that is such as shame.”

The Leeds East constituency is made up of the city of Leeds wards of Cross Gates and Whinmoor, Gipton and Harehills, Killingbeck and Seacroft and Temple Newsam.

It comprises of a vast area with many different estates and communities, some of them notorious for anti-social behaviour, yet others are sought after neighbourhoods where houses are sold within days of going up for sale.

Left Harold Knight and David Barfoot, say Brexit should have happened by now

Outside the Cross Gates Centre, a group of young mums are chatting and laughing.

One of them Crystal Kay, tells me she will not be voting, much to the shock of her friend, who assumed Crystal would definitely be at the polling station.

The 30-year-old from Whinmoor, who has a young child, said: “There is no way I will be voting. I am totally confused by it all. I don’t know who to vote for. As a mum I am worried about the NHS and what is happening to it.

“I also think that Brexit should have happened when people voted for it three years ago. I mean what is going on? Why hasn’t it happened? I’ve just lost track of it all. My own mum is a Labour voter.”

Since 2015 Labour’s Richard Burgon has been MP, winning the 2017 general election with a comfortable majority, beating his Conservative rival by 12,752 votes, securing 61.4 per cent of the vote.

With only 62.8 per cent of eligible voters turning out to vote, doorstep campaigning has been taking place across the district, with leaflets and door knocks from campaigners not always welcome.

Tamsin Rogers, from Temple Newsam, travels to Cross Gates as she likes the charity shops.

She said: “I don’t really want people knocking at my door preaching about who to vote for. I can make my own mind up and won’t be persuaded on the doorstep.

“I really like Jeremy Corbyn, but everyone seems to have gone off him.”

Harold Knight, 76, from Seacroft, doesn’t want the bother of going out to the polling station so has already voted: “I’ve done the postal vote so have already made my choice.

“All the leaders are a bad as each other in my opinion.

“Also the Brexit thing is a huge problem for me. Why hasn’t it happened? People voted and there was a result yet it has been left in a mess for too long.”

His friend David Barfoot, 72, from Thorner, agrees: “We voted in the referendum to leave. Brexit should have happened by now. It was three-and-half years ago. This country has never been in such a state. I can’t remember it being this bad before.”

Candidates for Leeds East

Shahab Adris, Green Party; Richard Burgon, Labour Party; David Dresser, Liberal Democrats; Jill Mortimer, The Conservative Party; Sarah Wass, Brexit Party.