Many readers in East Leeds will have memories of Denis Healey as the Labour MP for our area from 1952 to 1992.
My family certainly do and I’m a proud owner of a book Denis signed for me when I was a teenager.
Alongside his autograph he added an amusing doodle of himself which included his famous bushy eyebrows!
When Denis passed away at the grand old age of 98, his family gave me a bust and painting of him that had been given to him and which he’d kept in his house.
A few weeks ago, it would have been Denis’ 100th birthday and I wanted to do something in our area to mark the contribution of a man who was a giant in every sense of the word.
I got in touch with Bob and Jacquie Lawrence of East Leeds Historical Society to arrange for the bust and painting (and a fantastic photo of Denis - in his 70s – perilously defying gravity on a slide whilst opening a playground in Seacroft, surrounded by cheering children) to be displayed in the East Leeds History Room of Crossgates Library.
This is where Denis held his advice sessions for constituents and I hold advice sessions there myself to this day.
We organised a special event which was attended by local residents and Denis’ former election agent Dougie Gabb.
We unveiled the bust, painting and photo and I talked about Denis’ life. Denis was part of the generation that fought fascism in the Second World War and came back home determined that the working class majority would have what they deserved – a National Health Service, a Welfare State ‘from cradle to grave’, education for all, decent housing, a fairer and more equal society and end to grotesque poverty.
In 1945, Denis famously gave a passionate speech in full military uniform in support of the great Labour Government elected by a landslide which pursued these goals.
As the MP for East Leeds, it strikes me that in 2017 many of the post-war gains that Denis was rightly so proud of now need defending or winning again.
Healthcare professionals tell me our NHS is in crisis and is being pushed down the path towards a USA-style healthcare system where they feel for your wallet before they feel for your pulse.
A mortgage or a council house are now just pipe dreams for too many young people in our area.
Working people have suffered huge pay cuts in real terms.
Young people are weighed down with debt.
Foodbanks operate in our city.
Pensioners aren’t getting the standard of living they deserve in their retirement.
People living with disabilities are being treated like second class citizens.
My advice sessions are full of constituents whose stories are proof of these things.
As an MP, I take up issues for thousands of residents in our area as part of the fight to get them the fair and decent treatment they deserve.
But the more I see, the more firmly I believe that to put an end once and for all to people in our community being held back, we need a modern version of the kind of government that Denis Healey so passionately argued for in his famous speech in 1945.
Richard Burgon is the Labour MP for East Leeds