Just one of the reasons the public doesn’t trust politicians

Former Culture Secretary Maria Miller.

Former Culture Secretary Maria Miller.

You’ll often hear politicians talk of how frustrated they are about voter apathy and how they must work harder to engage with the electorate.

Well if any MP, MEP or even local councillor wants to know why so many people feel disillusioned about politics in this country then they simply have to look at the Maria Miller saga.

I’m not for one moment suggesting that if such scandals never arose then the number of people going to the polls would rise exponentially.

There will, sadly, always be those who don’t vote.

We can make all the excuses in the world for them but the truth is most can’t be bothered to exercise their democratic right and the fact that our forefathers died to preserve such freedoms is entirely lost on them. They simply don’t care.

There are also, I believe, a growing number of people who can see very little daylight between the main political parties anymore and they simply distrust politicians.

It doesn’t help that when you ask a question of a Member of Parliament, for example, you never get a straight answer.

I’ve interviewed numerous MPs over the years and they have a way of talking which avoids them ever saying anything which could be held against them further down the line.

Indeed they will very often answer the question with another question or say (and this is my personal favourite): “Well, of course, what’s important here is (insert soundbite).”

No, what’s important is that I’ve noticed you have avoided answering the question, my right honourable friend.

The irony is that I think most people would be far more forgiving of someone who occasionally admitted they had made a mistake than someone who wriggles and squirms but always manages to justify their stance or actions.

I’ve heard and read that Maria Miller has been a terrific constituency MP. That may be true but I’m afraid her reputation will be forever tarnished by the expenses scandal which led to her stepping down from the post of Culture Secretary on Wednesday.

In her resignation letter she told the Prime Minister she was grateful for his ‘personal support’ but felt the ‘present situation’ had become a ‘distraction from the vital work of the Government’.

In the grand scheme of things one could ask why the media is devoting so much time and energy to this story. Is it a witch-hunt because Miller was overseeing the implementation of Press regulation on the back of the Leveson Inquiry?

And anyway, haven’t we got more important things to worry about – like the state of the economy, immigration or HS2?

The truth is, however, that the public remembers the MPs’ expenses scandal – exposed by the excellent work of the Daily Telegraph – all too well and the Miller affair has given us all flashbacks to nannies and duck ponds.

The unedifying spectacle of both sides of the House of Commons slipping and sliding in the mud as they attempt to gain the moral high ground hasn’t helped.

Neither the Conservatives nor Labour covered themselves in glory in 2009 and the rank hypocrisy of millionaire opposition front-benchers, themselves far from whiter than white, feigning outrage on behalf of the public is there for all to see.

Last week Parliament’s Independent Standards Commissioner said that Maria Miller had broken Commons rules and should repay £45,000 in expenses she had claimed on a London house which she later sold for a £1.2 million profit.

Then, of course, a committee of MPs laughably reduced the repayment to £5,800 and we all heard Miller’s 32-second excuse for an apology.

Even on Wednesday, having resigned, Miller seemed utterly incapable of admitting she’d done wrong – which she had.

The best we got was that she ‘took full responsibility for the (Standards Commissioner’s) findings’.

Talk about dancing on the head of a pin. Just pay back the £45,000, duck. I dare say you won’t miss it.

Thankfully the former Culture Secretary has decided not to accept the ludicrous £17,000 golden handshake – er, I mean severance pay for Ministers – and instead chose to donate it to charity. You see it’s not just in the banking industry that failure, poor performance, dubious behaviour or resignations are rewarded.

In the same way that an unelected, highly-paid tier of council officers and NHS staff seem bullet-proof, many of our politicians are similarly shielded from the realities of life.

I would suggest it’s high time that we did away with the MPs’ expenses system altogether.

They do an important job which necessitates them living in London much of the time so let’s pay them a salary which covers their housing and travel costs and be done with it. That way there can be no temptation to abuse the system.

At the same time we shouldn’t ever have a situation again where MPs self-regulate in terms of standards or finances.

It simply doesn’t work because those inside the Westminster bubble haven’t a clue just how appalled the vast majority of us are at the way many politicians have behaved in recent years.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

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Beating voter apathy more important than who won this time around

Ballot boxes ready for emptying.

Ballot boxes ready for emptying.

I can’t help but feel local elections are akin to a re-shuffling of the deck chairs on the S.S. Titanic.

They actually do little more than divert our attention away from the iceberg looming up on the Starboard side.

As vital as they are to local democracy, it is hard for me to get too excited beyond a private smile when someone I know to be a good councillor (irrespective of their political affiliations) is re-elected.

At least then I can rest assured that, in their particular ward, local people will have a voice and that voice will come from someone who cares and who isn’t just trying to climb the greasy pole.

Of course, it isn’t just me who struggles to muster much interest in local elections. It’s the majority of voters too.

The turnout across Staffordshire varied from the anomaly that is Cheslyn Hay, Essington and Great Wyrley (52 per cent) down to a paltry 21 per cent in Keele, Knutton and Silverdale where Labour’s bright young thing Gareth Snell met his Waterloo.

I guess the average turnout was around 30 per cent.

Simply put: The majority of the electorate are even less bothered about voting in these polls than they are at General Election time.

For me, this apathy is by far the greatest threat to our democracy and the biggest issue facing politicians and parties who, by the very nature of the system, live for short-term gain.

The word you often hear after an election is that parties need to ‘re-engage’ with the electorate.

Indeed Labour MP Tristram Hunt used it yesterday in his column in The Sentinel.

The word re-engage is as close as you’ll ever get to an apology from your MP, a local party leader, the Prime Minister or his Right Honourable ‘Friend’ on the other side of the Despatch Box.

It covers a multitude of sins, stops politicians from having to admit they’ve made any mistakes, and is their way of explaining away the fact that election turnouts have been falling in the UK since the early 1950s.

Until we get a grip of this by impressing upon primary and secondary school children the importance of casting a vote, come hell or high water, then I’m afraid apathy will continue to reign.

Here in Staffordshire, as expected all parties were trying to find crumbs of comfort in the election result which actually meant very little changed.

The Conservatives held on to control of the authority with the slimmest of minorities while Labour enjoyed the typical resurgence of a party in opposition during the mid-term of a government taking unpopular decisions.

The fact is many people do find it impossible to divorce national politics from local politics and thus many a hard-working ward councillor pays the price for what his or her party has or hasn’t been doing at Westminster.

As a case in point in our county, poor Lib Dem councillors vanished off the political map – paying the price for their counterparts in the House of Commons selling their souls to the Coalition dream.

Meanwhile Ukip came from nowhere to grab a quite remarkable 24 per cent of the vote (broadly in line with the national picture) – but actually only won two seats as opposed to four the last time around.

It would be very easy to dismiss Ukip as the recipient of this year’s protest vote or to try to besmirch the party, as some leading politicians have done, as a haven for fools and extremists.

Yes, there is an element of protest voting going on as regards Ukip – just as there was when the BNP gained a foothold in Stoke-on-Trent.

But I think the message from the electorate is more nuanced than simply being a case of ‘anything other than red or blue at the moment’.

At a time of austerity and deep economic uncertainty, I think many people are tired of the spin, point-scoring and yah-boo politics which is the bread and butter of mainstream parties.

I also believe that Ukip has touched a chord with those who are fed up of the Tories, Labour and the Lib-Dems skirting around the important issues of Europe and immigration.

Not so long ago Ukip and its rather eccentric leader were seen as little more than a fringe group.
But last week almost a quarter of those who could be bothered to vote chose to support Ukip.

That’s a lot of votes.

Thus one can understand the conviction of Ukip leader Nigel Farage’s that his party isn’t “just some little pressure group that will go away if someone in No 10 starts singing the same song”.

If nothing else perhaps Ukip’s populist success will force the mainstream parties to ‘re-engage’ with the public on the issues that really matter to them.

Oops, there’s that word again.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

City MP’s take on the most divisive of Prime Ministers

Stoke-on-Trent North MP Joan Walley.

Stoke-on-Trent North MP Joan Walley.

Few figures are as inextricably linked to the 1980s as the former Prime Minister who passed away this week at the age of 87.

Her tenure covered the entire decade – beginning in 1979 when she inherited a country paralysed by industrial unrest and ending with the bitter Poll Tax riots and a Conservative party revolt which saw her forced from office.

In recent days millions of column inches have been written about this woman as those to the left and right, and those who were helped or hindered by her policies, seek to write her epitaph.

‘Divisive’ is the word most media outlets have settled for as commentators express admiration and condemnation in equal measure.

We’ve a ‘ceremonial’ funeral next week and doubtless amid the pomp there will be protests and questions as to why Margaret Thatcher deserves a multi-million pound send-off while so many across the country struggle in these austere times.

Someone who certainly doesn’t agree with this state-sponsored tribute is Joan Walley who was elected MP for the Stoke-on-Trent North constituency when the Iron Lady won a record third election in June 1987.

By then Mrs Thatcher was a towering political figure who had overseen the Falklands Conflict, defeated Arthur Scargill after the long-running Miners’ Strike and implemented many of the policies on which history will judge her.

Joan, who didn’t attend the tribute debate to the former Prime Minister, said: “When anyone dies, first and foremost you must be respectful of their family and friends and understand what they must be feeling at a time of loss and sadness.

“That said, my feelings towards Mrs Thatcher, I struggle to say Lady Thatcher, are of course coloured by the memories of what her destructive policies did to this country during the 1980s – the effects of which many communities are still feeling today.

“She dismantled much of the country’s manufacturing base, declared war on the trade unions, privatised the UK’s industries and utilities and sold off council homes without ensuring there was the social housing to replace it. We are now living with the consequences of these policies.”

In Joan’s eyes the fact that Margaret Thatcher was the country’s first and only woman Prime Minister is not significant in that it didn’t open doors for other women.

She said: “I don’t think she did anything for women, in all honesty. She certainly didn’t make a huge difference to the political landscape because during her time in office there were still many more men in Parliament than women.”

I asked Joan if it was too simplistic to say that Mrs Thatcher’s foreign policy was more successful than her domestic policy.

She said: “Even with regard to the Falklands War it is difficult to say whether or not she was right. She certainly went against the advice of colleagues and military commanders – we know that know from papers that have been released.

“It shows that she had the courage of her convictions but clearly the public confidence which she exuded at times was very much for the media because the success of the task force operation was far from guaranteed.

“Domestically, I would say she just got it terribly wrong. Yes she took over at a time of great industrial unrest but the way in which she set about changing the economy led to deep divisions which still exist.

“I remember leading the miners on marches at the Victoria Ground and Vale Park during the Miners’ Strike. Her policies, such as her war against the trade unions, left a very profound impression on me because I saw the suffering of families in our area.”

So how will Joan remember Margaret Thatcher as a Parliamentarian and a person?

“She was always immaculately turned-out. Her outfits were always striking and co-ordinated and she had those strings of pearls. There was never a hair out of place. I think image was very important to her.

“She was certainly an impressive performer in the House and when in front of the cameras – I think you have to say that. She was a good orator and had a very commanding aura.

“I think it also fair to say that she had more of an impact and a presence on the world stage than any of the Prime Ministers who have succeeded her.

“However, she has to be judged on the effect her policies had on the fabric of our society and, for many people, those policies were so destructive and caused hardship and misery.”

Pick up a copy of The Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia.

Overhaul of the benefits system isn’t black and white

Protestors demonstrating against the bedroom tax.

Protestors demonstrating against the bedroom tax.

It is sometimes difficult to see beyond the rhetoric when politicians are arguing over issues such as welfare.

Of course, it suits some people to paint the exchanges as a simple Tory versus Labour, blue versus red, rich versus poor battle.

They would have you believe that the Conservative party – or Coalition government – is hell-bent on punishing the most vulnerable in society while protecting the well-off.

Initiatives such as the ‘bedroom tax’ – which sparked angry demonstrations in North Staffordshire this week – seem to support the claim that there is some sort of class war going on and you therefore have to choose a side.

But if you look beyond the headlines and the soundbites you’ll see it isn’t quite so black and white.

This week a raft of controversial changes to the benefits system come into force which include the nonsensical reduction to benefits for people in council or social housing if they have an empty bedroom in their homes.

It’s a huge own-goal by the government which has the potential to seriously disadvantage a group of people who can’t afford to have their financial support reduced.

There is also a benefits cap which will prevent any household receiving more than £26,000 a year from the state – a sum which is supposed to reflect the average gross salary of a full-time worker.

The latter sounds fair enough in principle but it stands to reason that the occupants of every home should be assessed depending on their specific circumstances.

Therein, of course, lies the problem with the welfare state.

Blanket rules for everyone don’t work. They simply aren’t fair because everyone’s circumstances differ.

The great shame is that the much-needed debate over the welfare state is being drowned out by the outcry against some changes which are clearly ill though-out.

However you spin it, this country pays out hundreds of billions of pounds each year in benefits (a projected £216b in 2015/16) and it is a bill the UK simply can’t afford.

Under the previous Labour government the welfare bill rose dramatically and it is only right that during these austere times, when everyone is having to tighten their belts, that the benefits system comes under scrutiny too.

Last year I wrote about proposed changes to incapacity benefit – a controversial subject in an area like North Staffordshire which has higher than average numbers of people claiming the allowance.

My column prompted criticism from all quarters, including letters from the local Citizen’s Advice Bureau and various claimants citing their own reasons for being absolutely deserving of the said benefit.

My contention was a simple one: If you were genuinely unable to work through ill-health then surely you had nothing to fear from the new, albeit stricter tests, which the government was introducing.

Now the results of the incapacity benefits review are known.

Official figures show that 878,300 – more than a third of those who had been claiming benefit – decided not to take the tougher medical assessment to determine whether or not they were fit for work.

Another 837,000 people were found to be fit to work immediately.

A further 367,300 were assessed as being able to do some kind of work.

Only 232,000 of the total number of people receiving incapacity benefit in this country were classified by doctors as being too ill to do any sort of job.

This means that, according to doctors, seven out of eight people who had been receiving incapacity benefit could and should have been looking for employment rather than relying on hand-outs.

One could argue that this demonstrates that during Labour’s time in office the welfare state masked the true unemployment figures by ‘hiding’ hundreds of thousands of people behind a fog of sickness benefit.

I would simply say that while certain changes – i.e the ‘bedroom tax’ and cap on benefits per household – seem random, unfair and rushed, these figures clearly show that an overhaul of the welfare state was long overdue.

The government may be wrong about some changes to the benefits system but there’s no denying the unpalatable truth that large numbers of people have been in receipt of benefits to which they shouldn’t have been entitled.

Incapacity benefit is one example of a flawed, bloated system which incentivised not going to work.

It wasn’t helpful to the individuals lulled into a life of dependency and cost the country an absolute fortune.

Addressing this won’t solve all our economic woes but surely every little helps?

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

The public deserve a say on reintroducing the death penalty

There were a raft of liberal reforms sweeping through Parliament when Labour MP Sydney Silverman finally got his way in November 1965 and won backing for his private member’s bill to suspend the death penalty.

Since that time capital punishment has not been dispensed in the UK – regardless of the fact that this country, and the wider world, has changed beyond all recognition.

In 2012 the world is unquestionably a far darker, more dangerous and depraved place than it was 47 years ago.

In Britain, the numbers and rates of serious crimes such as murder have risen dramatically and so it remains one of the great mysteries of our democracy as to why old Sydney’s handiwork remains on the statute books.

Despite consistent majority public support over five decades for the reintroduction of the death penalty as punishment for certain crimes, those we have elected to serve us have not so much put the issue on the back-burner, they’ve thrown the idea out altogether.

It is just not on their radar.

There is simply no appetite for the debate among politicians afraid of being tarred with the brush of right-wing, tabloid newspapers.

What’s more, the abdication of powers to the European Union means that such a move is now more improbable than ever.

How strange then that in the wake of recent tragic events in Manchester and mid-Wales people are once again talking about the need for a death penalty.

Sentinel readers are writing in to the newspaper, stating the case for and against capital punishment.

It happens every time there is a brutal killing and every time a child is murdered.

Every time one of our police officers are killed in the line of duty this debate resurfaces. And so it should.

I listened intently to the broadcasts of the memorial services for PCs Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone and the church service for missing five-year-old April Jones.

They were genuinely heart-breaking and the only solace I could find in any of it was a glimmer of hope that the perpetrators of the associated crimes would feel the full force of the law.
But what happens when the majority of us feel that the punishments available to our courts are quite simply insufficient?

By rights, what the decision-makers should do is properly re-open the debate about the death penalty both as a deterrent and as a solution to some of society’s ills.

Some – such as human rights organisations – will, of course, argue that capital punishment should never be reintroduced.

They will point to well-documented cases where convictions for very serious offences have been over-turned, sometimes many years down the line, and say that we would therefore run the risk of executing innocent people.

Others will argue that the death penalty is no deterrent to some people who are, for whatever reason, hell-bent on killing or committing some sort of atrocity.

I accept these arguments but the simple fact remains that the current system doesn’t work.

We have a situation where, in most cases, sentences of life in prison don’t actually mean ‘life’ at all.

We have a prison system which has spectacularly failed to reduce re-offending rates to any great extent in spite of successive governments pouring millions of pounds into rehabilitation programmes.

We have a situation where prisons in the UK are more akin to youth hostels – complete with TVs, internet access, video games and gymnasiums for the enjoyment of killers, rapists and traitors.

Thus the idea of prison itself being a deterrent or ‘much worse than to be executed’, as one eminent QC puts it, is surely out of the window.

Perhaps just a few of these low-lifes could have been dissuaded from their crimes by the knowledge that they could face capital punishment if caught.

Either way I don’t see why we should be paying to keep them. Why should the families of PCs Bone and Hughes or April Jones pay taxes to feed, clothe and entertain whoever was responsible for taking their loves ones away from them?

What use are such criminals? Forget Europe. What rights do we think such individuals should be entitled to when it is proven beyond doubt that they have committed heinous crimes and, in many cases, admitted to committing them?

As far as I’m concerned such animals waived any rights the moment their twisted consciousness sent them to destroy the lives of others.

They show no thought for other people or the consequences of their actions.

They show no mercy and, in my book, deserve none.

It is all well and good for liberal organisations to preach about forgiveness, understanding and rehabilitation. But some people are so evil, so remorseless, so beyond redemption and so dangerous that I would suggest that, for them, the death penalty is appropriate.

I am talking about people who will never, ever be released from prison and who will never contribute to society in any meaningful way.

Instead they will remain a drain on the public purse and a constant reminder to their victims, or their victims’ families, of their terrible crimes.

Personally I’d rather see them disposed of with minimum fuss and expense. They can be fed to tigers as far as I’m concerned.

If the do-gooders and the law-makers and politicians of this country spent half as much time concerning themselves with the victims of crime as they do fretting over the rights of the perpetrators I dare say we’d all feel a lot safer.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Why it was wrong to find Coleman guilty over right-wing blog

If you had been outside Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court on Friday you would have witnessed Michael Coleman playing to the gallery.
Just minutes after receiving a suspended eight-month sentence after being convicted of racially-aggravated harrassment, the former BNP city councillor was in full flow.
He vowed to continue posting political ‘articles’ (I use that term loosely) to his blog and said he believed it would eventually lead to his imprisonment.
Playing the martyr with the assurance of someone who possesses an Equity card, he said he was “a free-born Englishman” who will be damned if he will see hard-won freedoms secured by his forefathers in two world wars taken away.
Sadly, all Friday’s sentencing and the previous conviction have done is raised Coleman’s profile and given him a platform for his bizarre views.
When the voters of the Potteries did us all a favour by booting out him and his BNP cronies last year, it also starved them of the oxygen of publicity. Now he’s news again.
Whereas before a few thousand people may have visited his blog to play ‘spot the spelling mistake’ and raise their eyebrows at his unusual ideas, his prosecution has sadly served to increase visitors to the obscure Stoke Patriot website.
Anyone who believes the riots which swept London and other UK cities last summer exemplified ‘the difference in personality, perceptions and values of people of the darker races and ourselves’ is clearly talking nonsense and didn’t read the news reports at the time.
Anyone who accuses the city council of overseeing a ‘complete population replacement programme – darkies in, whites out’, is clearly in a very small minority. As well as being plain daft.
However, in spite of his repulsive, right-wing views, Michael Coleman’s prosecution was – in my view – misguided and could well do more harm than good.
The posts on his blog may be obnoxious but, in spite of the court’s decision, I just can’t see them inciting others to racial harrassment.
Frankly, they are more likely to incite someone to reach for a dictionary or the sick bucket.
As a result of his suspended sentence, Coleman is barred from standing in a local council election for five years.
Given that he was reported to the police by Labour councillor Joy Garner this immediately makes her actions seem politically-motivated, even though I’m sure they weren’t.
The bigger problem here is that the internet has given everyone a voice and the policing of blogs and the like is nigh on impossible.
If it was right to prosecute Michael Coleman then I would suggest that there but for the grace of God go countless thousands of other individuals who perhaps won’t appear in court because they aren’t on the radar of someone like Mrs Garner.
Uncomfortable as it may be for us to admit, I think Coleman is right in one respect: His conviction poses serious questions about our personal freedoms and the right to free speech.
Voltaire’s oft-quoted statement: “I may disagree with what you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” comes to mind here.
The fact is we live in a democracy and a free country which is proud of being tolerant and a safe haven for the persecuted and peoples of other races, cultures and creeds.
I think our reputation as this bastion of tolerance is being somewhat undermined by the inability of everything from our judicial system to our national sport’s governing bodies to bring some common sense into the racism debate.
Different rules and standards seem to be being applied across the board – just take the FA’s kangaroo courts as an example.
It seems you get stiffer sentences these days for offending someone on the internet than you do for burgling a person’s home or mugging them in the street.
Where’s the logic in that?
I don’t, in any way, condone or defend Michael Coleman’s bizarre views but I can’t help but feel that – as a society – we should be able to cope with his minority view without resorting to criminal prosecutions.
Wrong he may be, but a danger to society who is inciting racial hatred? I don’t think so. Only if you let him.
The bigger danger, if you ask me, is the thought police’s propensity to overreact when anyone refuses to spout the vision of Britain being some sort of multi-cultural utopia.
I would suggest it is precisely the treatment dished out to Michael Coleman which is likely to get right-thinking people’s backs up and make them wonder whether they may be a point to his ravings.

Slash is returning to Paradise City

Yes! He’s back! A little older. Perhaps even a little wiser. But with the same laid-back attitude.

No, I’m not talking about former Elected Mayor Mark Meredith.

I refer, of course to the return to his native city of a music legend: A rock icon; A guitar hero;

I could go on…

The truth is that Labour’s landslide victory in the local elections pales into insignificance alongside the big story of the week.

Let’s face it, any fool could have predicted that voters in Stoke (or at least those who could be bothered) would revert to type and stick an X next to candidate wearing a red rosette.

It seems all is forgiven for Worldgate/the Cultural Quarter etc. (insert as appropriate).

The only thing that would have prevented a Labour candidate winning in most wards is if a certain Saul Hudson had stood for election on a ticket of free smokes and Jack Daniels for all.

Mr Hudson, better known the world over as Slash, would have romped home, I assure you.

It is testament to the pulling power of the former Guns ’n Roses guitarist that tickets for his first ever gig in Stoke-on-Trent sold out in under two hours.

THAT is the big story of the week, ladies and gentlemen.

A colleague of mine, who shall remain nameless, simply couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about when I told her I’d lined up an interview with the man himself.

“He’s hardly local, is he?” she asked in the dismissive tones of one who had clearly never appreciated the magnificence of Appetite For Destruction or the unbridled genius of the opening riff to Sweet Child ’O Mine.

I don’t care if he only lived in Stoke-on-Trent until he was five, I’m claiming him as one of ours.
It seems I’m not the only one, either, as an online campaign to honour Slash and Motörhead stalwart Lemmy Kilmister with statues in their home city continues to attract signatures.

FA Cup Final or no FA Cup Final — they both hail from the Mother Town, by the way, so technically they should be Vale fans too.

Having been fortunate (or unfortunate — depending on your perspective) enough to have rubbed shoulders with a fair few celebrities over the last 20 years I don’t generally get star-struck.

Fair enough, I haven’t washed since shaking hands with The Fonz but — that aside — I am generally underwhelmed by showbiz stars, footballers and even royalty.

Slash is, however, a bit different and when his PR bloke confirmed I could have an interview I admit the denim-wearing 17-year-old in me played air guitar momentarily.

You see, it is a little-known fact that Stoke-on-Trent is a bastion of rock music.

Indeed, I have it on good authority that there are more Bon Jovi, Guns ’n Roses and Queen fans per head of population in the Potteries than almost anywhere else in the UK.

I should know, I’ve queued with most of them to get into every stadium from Milton Keynes to Manchester, from Wembley to Gateshead over the past two decades.

It’s something to do with our fair city being stuck in 1987, according to a friend of mine.

For those of you still wondering what all the fuss is about, Slash is widely considered one of the greatest rock guitar players of all time.

He has received countless accolades and awards including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame alongside his idols Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix.

He has performed alongside everyone from Elton John and Stevie Wonder to Michael Jackson and Ray Charles.

More to the point, sales of the 10 studio albums released by the bands he has been the heartbeat of since 1986 — Guns ’n Roses, Slash’s Snakepit and supergroup Velvet Revolver — have sold in excess of 120 million records.

Thus the arrival of the great man, now an elder statesman of the rock scene, for his first ever gig in the city where he was raised in his early years is something of a coup for the Victoria Hall.

As I said in a previous column, the powers-that-be at the King’s Hall should take note that this gig could have sold out five times over.

Not that I am surprised by either the response to the tickets going on sale or the decision by this music legend to come home.

Slash is returning at long last to Paradise City — “where the grass is green and the girls are pretty”.

OK. You can stop laughing now.

I’ll be there on July 24 with my faded jeans, an earring and a G’n’R tee-shirt.

I may even grow my hair again — although I will have to give the bandana a miss this time.

Election? What election?