THE spectre of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars casts a long shadow over today’s solemn silence in memory of the 30 Britons gunned down in Tunisia’s terrorist atrocity a week ago.
As the bodies of the deceased are repatriated, the haunting scenes at RAF Brize Norton have chilling parallels with the homecoming of those brave members of the Armed Forces who gave their lives in the name of freedom. The only difference is that today’s coffins contain the remains of innocent holiday-makers slaughtered on a beach.
These past conflicts are also haunting the Government – and its response to ISIS terrorists. Margaret Thatcher’s caution 40 years ago, according to newly-released Cabinet papers, to the possibility of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein acquiring weapons of mass destruction was diametrically opposed to Tony Blair and George W Bush’s direct military intervention after the 9/11 attacks, and which many blame for today’s febrile state in the Middle East.
As Britain falls silent, it would be remiss of the Government not to reconsider its options. After all, it does seem slightly perverse – at face value – that the RAF has a mandate to hit extremists in Iraq, but that this does not extend to neighbouring Syria where the ISIS stronghold is such that it is recruiting young jihadists who have been radicalised on these shores.
Any military action, however, should also be authorised in Parliament. After MPs voted down Government plans to intervene in Syria two years ago, it puts an added onus on Ministers to make a clear and coherent case for deployment.
Nevertheless, this is not a time for knee-jerk reactions. Any military response – if the case is made – requires clear objectives and must be backed up by diplomatic efforts. As Lord Ashdown, the former Lib Dem leader, advised so bluntly, the widespread use of Western military firepower is one of the primary reasons why Britain is at the epicentre of a struggle likely to last a generation. It is a sobering thought.
Maximising region’s potential
EVEN though there are occasions when the Government does itself few favours, like the halting of previously promised rail electrification plans for Yorkshire, it would be churlish not to acknowledge Greg Clark’s appointment as Communities Local Government Secretary. Born in Middlesbrough, he was a powerful advocate for regional devolution before this approach was given added impetus by the political convulsion in Scotland.
Unlike those Ministers who prefer to impose policies from Whitehall rather than placing their trust in policy-makers in the provinces, Mr Clark believes that the regions should take the lead and he used his appearance at the Local Government Association in Harrogate to challenge this county’s leaders to put together their own devolution blueprint for Yorkshire to rival the plans already being implemented in Greater Manchester.
Yet here is the rub. Yorkshire’s political leaders are struggling to reach a consensus and appear to be coming to the view that future plans should revolve around the established city-regions, and their unique economies, rather than a single body, headed by a Boris Johnson-like figure, crusading on behalf of all.
If this is so, those involved in the negotiations need to demonstrate how and why this piecemeal approach is preferable to districts from across the county pooling their expertise to ensure that Yorkshire not only gets a fairer funding deal from Ministers but also punches above its weight as an economic powerhouse. For the longer they prevaricate, the greater the likelihood of regional rivals stealing a march on this county and its still untapped potential.
Carry the card
Marvels of modern medicine
ONE of the great marvels of modern medicine is transplant surgery – and the number of seriously-ill patients who now make a full recovery after receiving the gift of life. This would not be possible without the brilliance of pioneering surgeons at hospitals in Leeds, and elsewhere, who were ahead of their time. Yet these transplants are also dependent on there being sufficient people willing to donate their organs when they pass away, and the real tragedy is that as few as 100 Yorkshire families chose to make the ultimate sacrifice in the past year.
Three people die each day while awaiting transplants, hence this newspaper’s Be A Hero campaign that is urging more people from this region to volunteer to join the NHS Organ Donor Register. It could not be simpler – it just involves the completion of a simple form – but it could be the difference between life and death.