March 11: Growing irony of defence cuts

PHILIP HAMMOND’S hard-nosed speech yesterday on foreign affairs and the often unheralded work of the intelligence service was indicative of the threats to global peace that are now posed by Russia, and the territorial advantages now being made in the Middle East by the so-called Islamic State and also its acolytes in Africa.

These changes have become far more substantial since Mr Hammond succeeded Richmond MP William Hague as Foreign Secretary, and his assertion that Russia is now emerging as the “single greatest threat” to Britain’s security is the strongest condemnation yet of Vladimir Putin’s many acts of provocation.

The top Tory was equally belligerentwith his scathing condemnation of those “apologists” for Islamist terrorism who sought to blame the intelligence agencies for the radicalisation of young fanatics like Mohammed Emwazi, the Briton who has overseen the execution of Western captives in Syria. Mr Hammond is right – the responsibility for such despicable acts “rests with those who commit” such atrocities.

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Yet, apart from pre-election hints at new laws to assist the secret services, Mr Hammond’s stance offered little prospect of these threats being neutralised – the West is still carrying the scars of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations.

Significantly, this speech came within hours of top American diplomat Samantha Power, the United States’ Ambassador to the United Nation, criticising the scale of the defence cuts being implemented across Europe.

She is only too aware of the irony of Mr Hammond’s current position being greatly weakened by the downgrading of Army, Navy and RAF personnel which he instigated during his tenureship of the Ministry of Defence.

They are decisions which Mr Hammond could rue if his foreboding proves prescient.

In the culture club

IT was the television comedian Harry Enfield, in a sketch some years ago, who crystallised the stereotype of Yorkshire as a cultural desert.

His grotesque caricature, George Whitebread, was an uncouth misogynist who famously quipped: “Don’t talk to me about sophistication, love. I’ve been to Leeds.”

Those who laughed then will no doubt scoff now at the decision by Leeds City Council to mount a bid for the European Capital of Culture title.

Yet the city’s cultural offer is not to be sniffed (or scoffed) at. Home to the Henry Moore Institute, the Grand Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds can more than hold its own.

Coupled with the recently opened 13,500-capacity arena, impressive Victorian architecture and a thriving arts, dance and music scene, there is no reason why Leeds should not expect success in 2023 – the next time it is the turn of a UK city to land the honour.

In the wake of Hull’s capturing of City of Culture status for 2017, its West Yorkshire counterpart has a compelling claim to a title that has gone to the likes of Wrocklaw in Poland and Plovdiv in Bulgaria.

As Yorkshire’s largest city, Leeds is a lightning rod for the region’s wider ambition. The decision to enter a bid for European Capital of Culture status is therefore to be welcomed as a sign of a much-needed commitment to raising the profile of the city – and, by extension, Yorkshire as a whole.

Indeed, the need to build on the success of last summer’s Grand Départ, not to mention the threat that Manchester will eclipse it as the centre of the Northern Powerhouse, means Leeds could not afford not to bid.

The best in class

STEEPED IN farming, and the rural way of life, there is no one better qualified than Charles Mills to lead the Great Yorkshire Show into a new era when longstanding director Bill Cowling retires after this summer’s celebration.

This is not just an Yorkshire event – it is now firmly established as the largest show of its type in England – and the commitment of Mr Mills to promote the importance of agriculture, and the countryside, to new audiences does bode well for the future.

It is a sad reflection on contemporary society that he feels a “need to teach the public about what the countryside is about”, but this remains a mission of the utmost importance. For, as the new honorary show director intimates, the next generation of consumers may not appreciate the unrivalled quality of home-grown produce unless farmers maintain the positive momentum generated by unique events like the Great Yorkshire Show.