Leeds Town Hall. Photo courtesy of moniqca
The political landscape in Leeds is as fickle as Nick Clegg after an election. The three main parties bump shoulders across the districts; left and right face-off in the east, coalition partners knock elbows to the west and the left occupy the city centre. With such a state of constant governmental flux going on in their backyards, it’s fair to say that Loiners are a political lot.
Protests, occupations and thousands marching through the centre; Leeds residents are opinionated and passionate about their city’s politics. Now many have turned to the world wide web to express their thoughts online; MPs, students and ordinary citizens are using the internet to espouse their perspective on the political situation up north.
One such resident is the Leeds Citizen. Self-described as, “A minor irritant on the flesh of the body politic of Leeds“, the blogging equivalent of Judge Dredd has been exposing wrong-doing and government iniquity since July 2011. The “Citizen” started blogging after deciding that the local press weren’t doing enough to cover Leeds’ politics.
In a post about a new dual carriageway planned for East Leeds the Leeds Citizen shows both bureaucratic savvy and a skill politicians have only just started to understand, that of listening to the community:
Not because of local residents’ disquiet over the scale of the housing development that’s prompting the road’s construction. Not because of the doubts being expressed over whether such roads actually relieve congestion. And not because the road’s already being seen by some as an expression of an overly car-centred approach to transport in the UK’s most congested conurbation.
The Leeds Citizen has taken the fourth estate of the realm into their own hands and used it effectively, something Beyond Guardian Leeds has also accomplished. A volunteer group who donned the mantle of local journalism after Guardian Leeds closed, they blog about the latest events and political goings-on in Leeds. The sheer breadth of issues they cover is staggering, “Leeds today: marathons, running, journalism, stank hall, market, parking, Trinity and newspapers” and their links provide the reader with an aggregate of other bloggers writing about the unofficial capital of the north.
If you’re one of the 200,000 temporary inhabitants living in the biggest undergraduate city north of the Thames and you want to know what your MPs aren’t doing for you, there’s Ben’s Community blog. Ideal for those whom Nick Clegg forgot, Ben addresses the issues that matter to students; council cuts, housing and bus fares, and talks to the students themselves:
We consulted with 479 students and members of staff about the council’s budget priorities with the headline question “which of these areas should the council to prioritise”. We found that of these students and members of staff:
4% chose Highways, Planning and Inward Investment
12.8% chose Culture and Leisure
13.6% chose Waste Management and Environmental Action
13.8% chose Adult Social Care
15.1% chose Housing and Community Safety
40.7% chose Children’s Services and Education
Clearly plenty of Leeds natives are getting involved in the discussion. However it’s not just the constituents who are blogging. Several of Leeds’ MPs are discussing party policy and personal views on the web. The Member of Parliament for Elmet and Rothwell, Alec Shelbrooke, has an especially good offering for the blogosphere. It’s updated regularly and spans a wide-range of topics, (including HS2 trains, the Holocaust and UKIP), as well as forthright and unashamed. You only have to read a few lines to realise that Alec is Conservative with a small and a large c, “a real eye opener to the level of debate that the Left has dragged this country down to.”
Other Leeds MPs who are sharing their thoughts on the world wide web are Ed Balls, Hilary Benn and Rachel Reeves. Balls’ blog spends a little more time on national politics than his home constituencies of Morley and Outwood, however he does discuss regional matters including a recent post in February about Morley Train Station.
Hilary Benn’s blog, on the other hand, has a definite local focus. He posts “Hilary’s Look Ahead” every week, letting his constituents know what he’s doing and the issues he’s focusing on. Rachel Reeves takes a similar approach; less personal views, more what’s going on in Leeds and what she’s doing for her constituents.
Along with MPs there are also parties with their own blogs. The Leeds Socialist Party’s blog is unsurprisingly partisan but if your politics have a distinctly left-wing, anti-banker flavour then you’ll enjoy their informative approach, “This years budget plans include closing 8 residential homes across the city, inclreasing council house rents by 5.9%, increasing children’s nursery fees by £2 a day and a further 334 job cuts.”
With local news dismissed by London-based hacks it’s essential for people to remain informed of what’s happening in their area. Where newspapers are too busy viewing the big picture, a blog can see the minutiae, and where journalists are too focused on deadlines, bloggers care about their community. In a city like Leeds that will always go to the barricades, it’s easy to find informed citizens who want to spread the word. The internet has turned the public sphere global, but for those with a local viewpoint it still has a lot to offer.