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How Leeds' rebel-rousing writers shaped the world
Guest blogger Mick McCann looks at how 19th century radical Leeds folk shaped the world's ideas on race, women's rights and roles, workers rights, sexuality, education, children's rights and public health

We're a bit rubbish in Leeds. Had Oasis been from Leeds, rather than the delusional 'best band in the world' they'd have claimed to be 'not bad on a good night.'

Be it modesty or some weird inferiority complex, we don't usually brag about our achievements, or those of our city, and they sometimes disappear or go unnoticed.

So, after 18 months of researching and writing, I've been crowing about Leeds and here I'm going to have a quick boast about the city's old writers and their influence on civil rights, equality and personal freedom.

Now I'll start by pointing out that I'm defining 'writers' loosely. If they mainly spoke directly to crowds, they wrote the words. Although I'll frequently refer to writing, Leeds folk were more often doers, out there getting down and dirty, organising and protesting, getting beaten and imprisoned rather than the more middle-class pursuit of going to meetings, writing for journals or sending stiff letters to the press.

This latter stance particularly irked Tom Maguire, a journeyman rabble-rouser, pioneering socialist, trade unionist and poet, who believed that the poverty of his background gave him a different prerogative and an urgency for action, for the fight. He died young and I'll probably wrap up this babble with a verse of Tom's.

Also word count will see me blanking politicians so you'll not hear me babbling about people like Herbert Henry Asquith whose time as Prime Minister almost brought about an actual class war.

Don't know what all the fuss was about, all Asquith presided over was legislation setting up free school meals, unemployment insurance, ending sweatshop conditions and the introduction of old age pensions.

Just a few more rights for children, medical inspections and medical treatment, laws against neglect, sending kids out begging, imposing bans on children buying alcohol, tobacco, fireworks and the introduction of a juvenile criminal system in which borstals and juvenile courts took children out of the brutalising adult system.

He only gave workers the right to sick pay, free medical treatment, sickness, maternity benefit and unemployment benefit, so why would the Tories squeal so much that Lloyd George commented that 'by 1913, this country was brought to the verge of civil war.'? Nobody knows where Asquith picked up the fire in his belly, it's not like he was infected by a radical Leeds tradition now, was it?

For the full article

Guardian Leeds