THE ROYAL British Legion can be assured that people will wear the poppy with particular pride during this period of remembrance. A century after the outbreak of the First World War, the public’s enduring respect for the Armed Forces remains even more resolute following the heroism and sacrifices made by so many service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan as the last troops return home.
Yet, while this year’s appeal is likely to top the £13m raised last year thanks to the symbolic sea of poppies which have been planted in a moat around the Tower of London, there is a growing sense that the Government is not fulfilling the Military Covenant that was set up to protect the interests of those soldiers, airmen and seamen who suffered life-changing injuries in the line of duty.
No one could fail to be moved by the account of Morley’s Simon Brown and how the former Army corporal had “to jump through hoops to win” his fight for plastic surgery after being shot in the face by a sniper in 2006. It should not be like this. This brave man suffered disfiguring facial injuries while serving his country in Iraq and should not be treated as a pariah.
However, while the rehabilitation facilities for amputees are now world-class, more also needs to be done to help those service personnel who are suffering from mental health illnesses as a result of the traumas that they endured on the front line. Though “hazardous” levels of alcohol consumption are one factor, the Defence Select Committee highlights a number of shortcomings today, not least a “shocking” backlog in the processing of claims for War Pensions and compensation payments.
This is unforgivable. Given that Britain’s contribution to nation-building in Afghanistan stands at £37bn, and that it is not safe to leave behind a memorial to the 453 UK personnel who were killed during this 13-year conflict, it is, frankly, shameful that the Government can’t find the resources to help those service personnel who were sent to war in this country’s name. Though David Cameron was not Prime Minister when the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns began, it now falls to him to address this dereliction of duty.
Running scared: Lib Dems and SNP on EU vote
IF THE Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalists are so convinced that this country’s best interests lie in the European Union, why are they so afraid of entrusting this decision to Britain’s voters? This is the outstanding question after the parties – both of which could, potentially, hold the balance of power at Westminster after the next election – tried clumsily to scupper David Cameron’s plans for an in-out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
First up was Nick Clegg, who said his party will not support the EU Referendum Bill, compelling the next government to hold a vote in 2017, because the Tories do not intend to repeal legislation on the ‘bedroom tax’ that the Lib Dems helped to introduce.
Next was the incoming SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, who says the UK should only be allowed to leave the European Union if all four home nations – England, Scotland Northern Ireland and Wales – vote in favour of such a move. Why should the wishes of the Celtic nations take preference over English regions, like Yorkshire, which are comparable in size?
Instead of denying the British public a once-in-a-generation vote, perhaps the SNP, Lib Dems and others would be better advised to look at how the pro-Europe business argument can be made more forcefully. At the moment, it is being drowned out by Ukip.
Survive and thrive: The challenge facing rural shops
WITH LLOYDS Banking Group in retreat from town centres, and Business Secretary Vince Cable urging the banks to work closer with post offices in those areas where there are below-average levels of customer service, it is another reminder that the very fabric of the traditional high street is changing.
This is borne out by the number of communities in rural Yorkshire which are now bereft of local amenities. Times are tough – shops, pubs, banks and so on can no longer be taken for granted and the ‘use it or lose it’ mantra has never been more pertinent. After all, Lloyds is less likely to close a thriving branch.
Families can also take heart from the success of a growing number of community-run initiatives across the region as organisations like the Plunkett Foundation spread the word in Yorkshire. It is up to people to support them, and the duty of the planning authorities to assist such ventures wherever possible to make it easier for countryside communities to survive and thrive in a new era.