A tribute to Gareth: One of ours

Private Gareth Bellingham.

Private Gareth Bellingham.

For a couple of months now I’ve been wearing one of those rubber wristbands.

It carries the words: ‘Supporting 3 MERCIAN (Staffords) in Afghanistan’.

Through my job I’ve been lucky enough to get to know some serving soldiers and their COs and I’m immensely proud of the work they do.

This weekend we lost one of our own.

Private Gareth Bellingham, of Clayton, was shot while on duty in Helmand on Saturday. He was 22.

Having witnessed the humbling sight of the bodies of our servicemen being repatriated through the little town of Wooton Bassett, the news brought it all back to me.

My heart goes out to Gareth’s family and friends.

There will be some who will say ‘we shouldn’t even be there. Nobody has to die if we bring the troops home now’.

I’m afraid it isn’t quite as simple as that.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the war in Afghanistan, our boys and girls are there NOW and we should be supporting them.

Every day as we go to work, sit at home watching the telly, walk the dog, take the children out or go to Vale or Stoke, they are in the heat and the dust risking their lives for freedom and democracy.

I, for one, am in awe of the job they do.

These people don’t do politics. They do duty.

I will continue to wear my wristband with pride until every last one of the Staffords is home safe.

Our Roy deserves so much better

The word disgrace is over-used these days but it is the perfect way in which we should describe the Sproson statue fiasco.
Literally thousands of Port Vale fans, including yours truly, have forked out to have a statue erected in honour of the club’s greatest servant – Roy Sproson.
This should be an issue on which there is no dissension. All true Vale fans should simply want this tribute in place as soon as possible.
Yet here we are again with the club throwing spanners in the works.
Contractors turned up today to be told they wouldn’t be allowed to start work.
Why’s that then? If the powers-that-be at the club had any problems with the plans (which the board has approved) then these issues should have been raised last week when representatives of the Sproson Fund visited the chief executive and updated him on the progress of the scheme.
Let’s be clear: This statue should have been erected last summer.
The board and everyone else at Port Vale should be bending over backwards to get this statue up as soon as possible.
Instead, the powers-that-be are again throwing obstacles in the path of something which will be a source of great pride to all supporters.
They should stop dishonouring Roy’s memory and pull their fingers out. They should stop hindering and start helping.
And why they are at it, they should do everything they can to enact the will of the majority of shareholders and get Mark Sims on to that board of directors as soon as possible.

Gagging councillors? You’ve got to be joking…

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the story tucked away on page 19 of today’s editions of The Sentinel.
It seems the city council has done a u-turn and ditched plans for a so-called ‘media protocol’ which would have limited elected members as to what they could say to the media.
The gagging policy – because, dress it up however you like, that’s what it was – was aimed at preventing councillors speaking independently to the likes of The Sentinel and BBC Radio Stoke.
Laughably, details of this nonsensical document were leaked to the newspaper for which I work from the colander that is the Civic Centre.
Clearly many councillors were unhappy with the idea and so they should be.
This kind of draconian measure, drawn up by someone who believes it is possible to have 44 elected members ‘speaking with one voice’ and never criticising the local authority, is an embarrassing attempt to somehow dictate what the media can and cannot report on.
Let me say this to whoever came up with this bright idea: It’s never going to happen and you need to do your homework.
The fact is, despite what certain people may think, the vast majority – around 75 per cent of the stories relating to, for example, the city council – which are published in The Sentinel – are either positive or neutral.
Thus this idea that the council only ever gets negative publicity is just plain wrong.
More to the point, surely it is in the best interests of council taxpayers for elected members to be able to speak their minds.
I’m not surprised the council refused to discuss the reasons for the withdrawal of the ‘media protocol’. Whoever came up with the idea ought to hang his or her head in shame.

Back to the future for city politics

Judging by the city council election results some people in Stoke-on-Trent have obviously got short memories.
Presumably they have forgiven Labour for the excesses of Worldgate and the Cultural Quarter which confirmed Stoke-on-Trent’s status as a political basket case – a city incapable of governing itself.
Yet here we are in 2011 and familiar faces are returning to haunt us.
The old adage that you could put a monkey in a suit and stick a red rosette on it and it would be voted into power in the Potteries still rings true.
To be fair, I’d prefer one party to have overall control rather than have some sort of coalition of convenience where nowt gets done.
The problem is that, without an effective opposition, there is nothing to prevent the self-interest and internal party politics which was the hallmark of previous Labour administrations from returning.
Make no bones about it: This latest election landslide – which leaves Labour with 34 of the 44 seats on the city council – is a reflection of people’s dissatisfaction with the coalition government’s national cuts.
It is also a result of your average Stokie (who can be bothered to vote) reverting to type.
Someone once asked me if I would be prepared to stand for election as a city councillor.
“God no,” I replied. “I can make more of a difference working for The Sentinel.”
Nothing has changed.

Courtesy costs nowt

I never cease to be amazed and disappointed at how rude and thoughtless some people can be.
Supermarkets car parks are, in my experience, a magnet for the lazy and the selfish.
As a dad with two small children I’m very often on the receiving end of other people not giving a monkey’s about their fellow man (or woman).
Take the people who park in parent and child spaces – when they don’t have small children (or any children) in their vehicle.
They are presumably so lazy that they simply can’t walk an extra 20 yards to the supermarket entrance and would rather take up a space reserved, for safety’s sake, for people with young children.
Their brass neck takes my breath away – it really does.
Then there are the drivers of rather more expensive vehicles – BMWs, Mercs and Range Rovers etc., who deliberately park over the lines of two spaces in order that no-one can park too close to their pride an joy.
If supermarkets want to improve customer service they should start issuing fines for the child-space thieves and the line-hoggers.
It seems to be the only language these people understand. Common courtesy simply isn’t in their vocabulary.

Hope for our fine profession

I’m putting the finishing touches to the script for tomorrow’s Young Journalist Awards ceremony. This is something we’ve been running in conjunction with Staffordshire University for a couple of years now – giving primary and secondary school pupils as well as college students the chance to have their stories published in The Sentinel and online. It’s all about encouraging the journalists of the future and I don’t think there has ever been a greater need to promote our fine profession. In this age of 24/7 broadcast media, regional newspapers particularly face their most difficult challenge to date as they struggle to remain relevant and desperately try to get to grips with the internet revolution. There is hope, however. I think people are starting to appreciate that there’s something about having a quality, tangible news product in your hand – something you can pass around and share, cut out or keep. You see, we don’t all spend every waking hour glued to a PC or mobile phone. Blogging and broadcasting is all well and good but, for me, print journalism will always be where it’s at. There’s very little room for error with print journalism – particularly when it has your name on and readers can come in to your office waving the paper at you.  Anyone can write a blog – as you can see – but not everyone who does is a trained journalist. They haven’t all sat in council meetings, inquests and court hearings. They haven’t all covered a football match or done a death-knock. They haven’t all had their ears chewed by a News Editor on deadline. The truth is you have to earn your stripes in this game. We should beware the ones who haven’t… and cherish those who have.

A new bus station… Am I dreaming?

Am I dreaming? I can’t quite believe it. I just wish my nan was alive to see it. Work really is to start next week on a new bus station for Hanley. If you’re not from Stoke-on-Trent then you simply won’t understand the significance of this development. For decades us Potters have been moaning about the horrible carbuncle which welcomes  (I use that term loosely) visitors to our city centre. It is no surprise that when the Daily Mirror ran an article a few years back claiming our city was the worst place to live in England and Wales they chose to run a picture of the bus station underpass. This dirty, great concrete monstrosity has been an embarrassment for years and the quicker it is pulled down the better. I may be speaking to soon but this could finally be the thing which kickstarts the regeneration of Hanley and holds up the top end of the Cultural Quarter. After all, first impressions do  count…