A poodle is one thing, but we shouldn’t be anyone’s lap-dog

I am pleasantly surprised to record that my faith in British politics and politicians has been somewhat restored in recent weeks.

First MPs shocked us all when the Government was defeated in the House of Commons in a vote over the possibility of military intervention in Syria.

Appalled as we all are at the thought of anyone using chemical weapons, I have to say I felt hugely uncomfortable at the prospect of the UK rushing into another Middle East conflict it can ill afford and which our over-stretched Armed Forces can certainly do without.

Thus I was encouraged that Parliamentarians seemed to have learned from past mistakes and, in particular, the so-called ‘dodgy dossier’ and exercised a degree of restraint.

Some were even prepared to vote against their own parties rather than galloping towards another endless war in a country most of us would struggle to pinpoint on a map.

No nation should ever go to war lightly but it helps when the public at least understands the reasons why its leaders may choose to do so and are sympathetic to the cause.

In the case of Syria, at the time when the Prime Minister called for the vote there were simply too many unanswered questions and a majority of MPs quite rightly, in my opinion, said no.

They had correctly judged the mood of the nation and certainly, at the time, there was simply no appetite for more ‘world policing’.

To his credit, the Prime Minister took the defeat on the chin as his right honourable friends on the opposition benches revelled in the moment.
David Cameron then, quite unexpectedly, did something I haven’t seen a British PM do for about 20 years.

Reacting to remarks allegedly made by a Russian diplomat who had described Britain as ‘a little island nobody listens to’, our Dave actually went and stood up for us.

The Prime Minister gave what I thought was a rather charming, indignant, Love Actually-esque defence of our Sceptered Isle.

He threw in Shakespeare, the abolition of slavery, great inventions. Oh and The Beatles.

I have to admit I almost cheered to hear it – so used am I to our glorious leaders being pathetically wet and insipid when it comes to international affairs.

Who can forget, for instance, the way in which that towering intellect George W Bush treated our then PM Tony Blair.

We may be a poodle on the world stage when compared to the U.S. and Russia but it is nice, just occasionally, to not be portrayed as some other country’s lap dog.
Of course, most people’s reactions to the Prime Minister’s defence of Britain was coloured by their political affiliations – with those on the left steadfastly refusing to give any credit.

‘A nice bit of myopic jingoism’ was how one of my Twitter followers described it – which I thought was a tad harsh.

I like to think, naively perhaps, that David Cameron stuck up for Britain, its traditions and values, because he believes in them.

It’s the kind of thing I’d expect any Prime Minister worth his or her salt to do but the sad truth is that, in recent years at leas, there has been nothing in the way of Statesmanship from the those living at Number 10.

It may just have been window dressing against the background of a summit at which precious little was actually achieved, but I was heartened – nonetheless – by the PM’s language and the sentiment.

The Britain of 2013 is a far cry from the global superpower it once was but it is clearly still important enough for the Americans to view us as a key ally – at least in terms of public perception, if not militarily.

I’d like to think that, going forward, any Prime Minister – from whichever party – understands that the British electorate deserves to be represented proudly in international affairs. If that means being unpopular, then so be it.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

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Eurovision: Always terrible but at least it used to have a novelty value

Bucks Fizz in 1981.

Bucks Fizz in 1981.

Eurovision: A party political broadcast on behalf of Euro-sceptics if ever there was one.

Anyone wishing to persuade their compatriots that Britain really should leave the European Union as a matter of urgency simply has tell them to tune into BBC1 tonight for this annual cheese-fest.

Masquerading as a music contest, this bloated televisual nightmare is simply an excuse for all the other countries of Europe (especially France) to show just how much they dislike us.

Mind you, we don’t do ourselves any favours, do we?

I mean, Bonnie Tyler is this year’s United Kingdom Entry. Really?

Don’t get me wrong I’m as fond as the next man of her massive Eighties hit Total Eclipse Of The Heart.

The video alone – with its weird imagery taken at an all boys school where nudity and the consumption of drugs which make your eyeballs turn into small suns seems commonplace – is frankly unforgettable.

But if we are reduced to wheeling out stars from 30 years ago then surely we’d be better off opting for Duran Duran or asking Wham to reform.

I’ve nothing against the Welsh warbler selected to champion this Sceptered Isle in Malmö tonight, other than that she appears to be somewhat past her best.

I guess we’ll see when the block-voting by members of the former Soviet Union commences this evening.

Maybe it’s my age but I don’t remember it always being a foregone conclusion that the UK would receive fewer points than Lichtenstein.

Although, to be fair, during the 1980s the countries taking part in the competition were at least in Europe.

Nowadays they’ll take anyone – including Israel, Cyprus and various intercontinental countries such as Russia and Turkey.

My first memory of Eurovision is of the year when family-friendly Bucks Fizz were the toast of Europe.

The grinning four-piece, with their daring outfit change, won the contest in 1981 with Making Your Mind Up – a song so bad all the other countries in Europe voted for it so that we were forced to keep listening to it and seeing the group’s garish outfits on Top of the Pops.

These days, Eurovision has its own website and there’s even an app to download – should you run out of chores to do – which allows you to immerse yourself in competition trivia and learn all the words to Moldova’s entry.

Of course, 30 years ago – even though the contest was well-established there was still a huge novelty factor when countries most of us only knew from O-Level or GCSE geography came together on the same night via the wonder of the small screen in our living rooms.

Back then we laughed at the idiosyncrasies of Europe’s smaller nations – until, that is, they started beating us with songs which sounded like they’d been made up by a drunken medieval peasant.

We didn’t mind so much when Ireland’s Johnny Logan kicked off the decade by winning with What’s Another Year. At least we could understand what he was saying.

But did the Aussie-born singer really have to return in 1987 and win again with Hold Me Now? Surely there should be rules against that sort of thing.

I bet Terry Wogan agrees with me.

Of course, Eurovision in the Eighties also introduced the watching public to a little-known, Canadian-born singer by the name of Celine Dion whose Ne partez pas sans moi won first place for Switzerland in 1988.

She was 20 at the time, years before she hit full diva mode with her epic theme from the movie Titanic.

That victory launched Celine Dion on the path to global stardom. Yes, it’s Eurovision’s fault.

Oh well, at least we can thank it for the music of Abba.

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

Offering a holiday lifeline to the children of Chernobyl

Many of us will remember that fateful day in April 1986 when the world held its breath as an unprecedented disaster unfolded before our eyes on TV news bulletins.

An explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine released large quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere over much of what was the western Soviet Union and parts of Europe.

The blackened and shattered site remains to this day one of the iconic images of the 1980s – a chilling reminder of risk posed by the use of nuclear power.

The battle to contain the radiation ultimately involved an estimated half a million workers and between 1986 and 2000 more than 350,000 people had to be moved out of the most contaminated areas of the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus and resettled in new homes.

Just 31 deaths were directly attributed to the outbreak – all of whom were people who either worked at the reactor or for emergency crews.

However, various studies have conservatively estimated that tens of thousands of additional cases of cancer and subsequent deaths have been caused by exposure to radioactive material.

In 1995 John and Julie Gater, of Light Oaks, were watching a television documentary on the after-effects of the disaster and were so moved by the story of one little boy – Igor – that they decided to become involved with a charity which provides hope and respite to the children of Chernobyl.

John, aged 50, said: “Igor was born with severe deformities as a result of the radiation but he had a personality which was 10 miles wide.

“It was that which inspired us to ultimately become involved with the Chernobyl Children’s Project (UK).

“They said they’d love to have us but that there wasn’t a group in our area and that we’d have to go away and find 10 friends who would be prepared to help us. We didn’t want to be put off by that and so we went away, and – because we are Christian – we prayed and decided to set up our own group based at St. Luke’s Church in Endon.”

Seventeen years later and the group is still going strong – having arranged trips to the UK for more than 470 children and young people and a handful of parents from contaminated areas of the former Soviet Union.

During that time more than three dozen have stayed with the Gaters in their own home.

John and Julie’s branch of the charity covers the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Moorlands area and they have a network of families willing to take in children and young people and help with looking after them during month-long visits to the UK which include trips to beauty spots and fun days out to places including the Alton Towers resort.

John, a garage proprietor, explained that doctors in Belarus say that four weeks of clean air, fresh food and a happy holiday improves the children’s health for at least two years and gives them a better chance of either recovering from or avoiding serious illness.

He added: “Julie and I have four children and, at the time we became involved with the charity, our youngest was only three.

“It has been a big commitment in terms of time and effort but neither Julie nor I regret a single moment of it.”

Anyone wishing to contact the charity to offer help can log on to: http://www.chernobyl-children.org.uk or contact John and Julie by ringing 01782 535000.

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