September 4: PM must offer a hand of hope

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IT is likely to become one of the defining images of the decade. A photograph that will, in years to come, be used to symbolise the moment when the world woke up from its slumber For until this point, have we not all – individuals and Governments alike – been sleepwalking through what is, in effect one of the worst refugee crises since the Second World War?

The haunting sight of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body being carried off a Turkish beach has left David Cameron appearing weak, and lacking compassion, when he responds to his growing number of critics, headed by Labour’s Yvette Cooper, by saying that the crisis will not be reconciled by Europe – and Britain for that matter – accepting “more and more refugees”.

Wearing a red top and blue trainers, little Aylan’s body was washed up just yards from where the remains of his older brother Kalip were found – the boys, believed to be Syrian, drowned with their mother as they, like tens of thousands of other families, tried to flee a brutal civil war in their homeland and begin a peaceful new life in Europe. They’re the latest victims of a wider conflict, and humanitarian crisis, which could prompt the Government to seek a Parliamentary mandate to launch airstrikes against Syria once the Labour leadership contest is over. Surely the deployment of the Armed Forces is not the answer after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? As the Bishop of Leeds pointed out so bluntly: “That is where it gets embarrassing – many of the problems have arisen because of western military intervention in places that have now collapsed into violence.”

In this regard, Britian has a moral duty to offer the hand of hope to the refugees, as Downing Street suggested last night. As for the future, the need for a UK foreign policy determined by Britain’s role in the world, rather than the narrow views of Eurosceptics, has never been greater. And, until Mr Cameron is clear on his strategy, he will be accused of standing idly by as more young innocents are swept to their deaths. In short, the PM needs to be dictating events before he is dictated to by others.

A truancy lesson

Give discretion to headteachers

AS THE new academic year begins, it is welcome that Leeds Council intends to adopt a more draconian approach when it comes to term-time absences – many will be surprised that the LEA’s existing protocols are relatively lenient and could be construed as exacerbating truancy rates.

Yet it is also important that common sense is applied by all local authorities – Leeds included. There is a difference between those parents who request permission in advance for their child to be absented from lessons, whether it be on grounds of compassion or the fact that the family cannot afford the inflated holiday prices charged by travel operators during the school holidays, and those parents who are indifferent at best towards the education of their children.

In this regard, the decision to prosecute –

or impose fixed penalty notices – should, where possible, be left to the discretion of individual headteachers. They are the people who know the circumstances of each student. They can determine whether the family holiday is justifiable in the circumstances, and if it will include an educational element as such as a museum visit, or if it is part of a wider pattern of behaviour that is detrimental to the youngster’s learning. As such, headteachers should publish attendance criteria at the start of each school year – and then there can be no excuses if pupils do fall foul of the rules.

Rail betrayal

Duty of care towards the disabled

EVEN THOUGH the Paralympics was supposed to have changed attitudes towards the disabled, no one appears to have told Virgin Trains, whose disgraceful treatment of retired nurse Sheila Branch has resulted in the operator being forced to pay financial compensation to the Pickering pensioner.

She had requested special assistance to get off the train after travelling from York to Peterborough earlier this year – and even confirmed her travel plans several months in advance.

Yet, when no help was forthcoming, the 67-year-old disembarked with near calamitous consequences – she slipped and suffered multiple injuries. Although Ms Branch is just lucky to be alive, it does not excuse the complacency of the train staff concerned. They have a duty of care to all passengers and should start fulfilling this obligation, particularly towards the disabled and elderly, or face draconian sanctions if they continue to treat travellers as a tiresome inconvenience.