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A beacon of ‘kindness, compassion and leadership’: Councillors pay tribute to the Queen

By David Spereall, local democracy reporting service

The “ultimate public servant”, a beacon of kindness and a comfort to the grieving – this is how Queen Elizabeth II has been remembered by councillors in Leeds today.

The city’s politicians united to pay tribute to the late monarch at Civic Hall at a specially convened meeting on Wednesday.

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Amid a markedly sombre atmosphere in the Hall’s usually raucous council chamber, the Queen was hailed as the “mother of the nation” who was the UK’s one “constant” across her 70 years on the throne.

Other councillors commended Her Majesty as a flag bearer for women in society, a shining light in the Commonwealth countries their parents came from, and for her commitment to her Christian faith.

Several members quoted the words of Paddington Bear, who when he appeared in a sketch alongside the Queen to mark her Platinum Jubilee this year, poignantly told Her Majesty, “Thank you Ma’am, for everything.”

Mark Dobson, the leader of the Garforth and Swillington Independents group, told the chamber: “We’re all in public service and public life, but can any of us realistically imagine 70 years of unfailing service, without a break, all while in the spotlight of the world?

“It’s remarkable and unless there’s a real twist of fate at some moment in time – probably when the majority of us have passed – I don’t think we’ll see the like of the Queen again.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Conrad Hart-Brooke said the Queen, “Served with this country without fear, without favour, always with grace and certainly sometimes with a twinkle of panache when things could not be said with open words.”

Fellow Lib Dem Ryk Downes praised the departed monarch’s ability to adapt across several generations.

He said: “She had the challenge of a changing society that went from pre-television, through to the internet and she was even using Zoom to communicate with people during the pandemic.

“I know a lot of older folk who tried to move with the times, but many haven’t.

“So for her as a 96 year-old to be at the forefront of technology and embrace social media is absolutely fantastic.”

Other councillors praised the Queen’s capacity for forgiveness, with several noting her meeting with the former commander of the IRA, decades after the group had killed her second cousin, Lord Mountbatten.

Labour’s Abigail Marshall Katung said she had been “an exemplar in goodness, kindness, in compassion and in leadership.”

She said: “We know so much about her faith because she never, never hid that from her speeches. I will sorely miss her Christmas messages, in which she never failed to make us understand the significance of the birth of Jesus Christ.

“She taught us that kindness is one of the most beautiful outfits any of us can wear.”

Labour frontbencher Councillor Salma Arif remarked on how the Queen had been a role model for women across the Commonwealth when she acceded the throne.

Reflecting on a conversation with her 80 year-old aunt, Coun Arif said: “When her generation first arrived in the country, they didn’t know about the Prime Minister, but what they had heard about was The Queen.

“She was deeply admired by the women in my family, for her sense of duty and because she was a woman operating in a man’s world.”

Fellow Labour member Julie Heselwood added: “Women were still treated as second-class citizens back in 1952. Society had narrow expectations for girls.

“Yet the Queen would not be railroaded by her male advisers who tried to tell her what she should be doing, and so she empowered the next generation of girls and women.”

Other councillors said the Queen’s passing had been a source of reflection on their own personal losses.

Conservative councillor Ryan Stephenson said he had spoken at the funeral of his own grandmother earlier this week.

He told the chamber: “When you strip away the pageantry, the ceremony and everything else, you realise that at its heart there’s a family there, mourning the loss of a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother.

“Many of us will have been through those awful times, rushing to the bedsides of a loved one for their final moments. It’s something we can all understand.”

His Conservative colleague, Paul Alderson, spoke movingly of how the last week had reminded him of the passing of his own father.

He said: “As we all share Kign Charles III’s deep sense of loss during this national period of mourning I’ve found it difficult not to reflect on my own personal loss in previous years.

“I’ve found myself thinking about my late father and a period of my life after his passing, which I consider my lowest and darkest moment.

“When I think about my father in previous days, I’ve been able to draw my own strength from that strength of the King’s. I’m certain many of us across the world will have done that as well.”

The leader of the council, Coun James Lewis hinted that a lasting memorial to the Queen would be created within the city at a later date.

“I think when it’s an appropriate time, it’s right we should look into how the city could do justice and commemorate the Queen’s historic service to the country and the city of Leeds,” he said.

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