OUT of the darkness from this week’s horrifying events in Westminster comes the poignant beacon of hope that is the outpouring of support towards the brave police officers, members of the military and public servants who protect us all.
More than £500,000 was raised for the family of murdered police officer Keith Palmer by well-wishers in little more than 24 hours after a fundraising campaign was launched in his honour.
The split-second decisions taken by Pc Palmer and the officer who shot dead terrorist Khalid Masood – reported to be Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s personal security guard – undoubtedly prevented further lives from being lost. They also highlight not only the extraordinary bravery of those ready to give their lives to protect democracy, but the fallacy of criticising those who make instant decisions in order to uphold public safety.
There have been a succession of cases in which the actions of armed police officers have been subjected to years of scrutiny. Even more notoriously, members of the military who served in Iraq have had their reputations dragged through the mud.
We should cherish the fact we live in a society where our police and armed forces act with the highest levels of integrity, and that their actions are scrutinised whenever there is loss of life. The Independent Police Complaints Commission provides a vital safeguard, one which might have saved so much of the enmity that blighted Northern Ireland if it had been in existence at the time of the Troubles. Even though none of the officers involved in Westminster are suspected of wrongdoing, the watchdog is duty-bound to investigate. That said, the public’s defiant response to the terrorist threat has been matched by expressions of goodwill for the police. It is a debt of gratitude which can only be repaid with continued support for the police, and security services, as they go about their onerous work.
Trains of thought
THE fact that Virgin Trains is to extend its half-hourly weekday service between Leeds and London to a Saturday shows, once again, the importance of the East Coast main line as a business and leisure route.
It means there will be an additional 600,000 seats a year – testimony to the route’s strategic importance. Like all operators, Virgin Trains would not be providing additional services if there was not the public demand.
However, two further points do need to be made on the back of this welcome announcement. First, this route will remain critically important, if and when HS2 is built, and will continue to require long-term investment in its infrastructure – there remains a lingering worry that high-speed rail will swallow Government funding intended for more provincial routes.
Second, the significant increase in passenger numbers on this route over the past decade shows the untapped potential of the trans-Pennine railway from both a business and leisure perspective.
It’s struggling to cope with passenger demand now, travellers forced to stand on three-carriage trains at peak times.
Though there are plans to upgrade the line between Yorkshire and Lancashire, this region’s leaders still need to use every opportunity they can to remind the Government that this is probably the most urgent infrastructure project on the whole rail network and the encouraging promises of Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, still need to be delivered.
For, while links to and from London will always be important, so, too, are east-west connections.
THE review into the appointments of senior Church of England clergy will be awaited with interest in Sheffield. Given bishop-designate Philip North resigned because his principled and theological opposition to female clergy became too much of a distraction, the question now is whether such conservative figures can be promoted to high-profile positions.
Even though provision was made for such views when the Church embraced the consecration of female bishops in 2014, the CoE has – in the words of the Archbishop of York – still to learn “how we can disagree Christianly”. This episode is all the more regrettable because Bishop of North is, by all accounts, a charismatic figure who has supported, and inspired, women clergy. Perhaps one way forward – and it is a humble suggestion – is for local parishes to have a greater say in this process in the future. A more informed process in Sheffield might have avoided so much of this discord.