Of course the UK is a Christian country (and we don’t need the PM to tell us…)

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby during the Easter service at Canterbury Cathedral in Kent.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby during the Easter service at Canterbury Cathedral in Kent.

Hallelujah, brothers and sisters. The Prime Minister has found God. Just in time for Easter, it seems.

Rather than the usual platitudes and inoffensive quotes from the gospels, this year ‘call me Dave’ spoke of the importance of his own faith, assured us Britain was still a Christian country and told us we should be confident about the fact.

In doing so he somehow offended a bunch of people and even prompted a well-known collection of humanists (I thought we were all humanists, but there you go) to write to a national newspaper accusing the PM of fostering alienation and harming society.

What a load of rubbish.

While I find it difficult to stomach faith being used as ammunition by politicians, the hypocrisy of people being offended because the UK is described as a Christian country is laughable.

Indeed, I‘d go so far as to say that only in Britain would a debate like this even take place because we seem to live in a society where everyone seems terrified of upsetting someone else.

The fact is Britain has been a Christian country for around 1,500 years and, technically, we can still be described as such given that 59 per cent of respondents in the 2011 census indicated they felt an attachment to Christianity.

This figure may have fallen sharply since 2001 (72 per cent) but, nevertheless, it’s still a majority.

Yes we are a cultural melting pot and other religions are welcome and are flourishing. However, it is fair to say that – if pushed – a majority of people in Britain would still probably pigeon-hole themselves as ‘Christian’.

The problem is, of course, that a vast majority of people in this country don’t go to church and are not practising Christians.

Therefore, it is probably more accurate to say that most people in the UK aren’t actually religious at all.

Earlier this week public figures including writers such as Sir Terry Pratchett, Nobel Prize-winning scientists, prominent broadcasters and even comedians argued passionately that the Government has no right to “prioritise” religion or any particular faith.

Ironically, it is once again Christianity which is being challenged here. I suspect that had a leading politician spoke out in support of another faith no-one would dare take issue with it for fear of being labelled intolerant or worse.

You see, it’s easy to criticise the established faith of the UK and the followers of that faith. In fact, what surprises me is that Christian leaders and their flock are so timid in the defence of their religion.

Being an atheist seems to be rather trendy and cool these days. Social media, for instance, is full of sarcastic images and slogans denigrating religion. Some people without faith look down upon those who trust in God as if they have professed belief in fairies or the Easter bunny.

Personally, I’m glad that religion is being talked about and I do believe that our fragmented, struggling society can benefit from people of faith offering spiritual guidance. After all, you’re unlikely to find it at Westminster.

Let us also not forget that it is predominantly Christian organisations who are running huge numbers of foodbanks across the UK at this time of austerity.

I only have a problem with what Mr Cameron says when this proclamation of faith seems to come out of nowhere.

After all, we didn’t see much acknowledgement of Christian beliefs when the current Government was pushing through the gay marriage legislation last May.

I wasn’t bothered either way. However, it seemed to me that those who opposed gay marriage on religious grounds were often painted as out-of-touch bigots.

Now that doesn’t seem very tolerant, does it?

My view is that politicians, or rather political parties, make token gestures in order to garner favour with certain sections of the electorate – whether that be gay people or Christians.

I object to either being used, as and when it suits politicians, in order for parties to create the illusion that they stand for certain values or groups of individuals.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

Advertisements

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

Why Drummer Rigby’s death shouldn’t be in vain

A public tribute to Drummer Rigby in the Staffordshire Moorlands.

A public tribute to Drummer Rigby in the Staffordshire Moorlands.

I’ve attended quite a few emotional press conferences over the last quarter of a century: Press conferences where the parents of missing children, relatives of crime victims and people who have suffered terrible abuses have opened their hearts.

But nothing has quite moved me in the same way as listening to the family of murdered soldier Lee Rigby on the radio.

The other day I found myself parked up at Cellarhead, waiting for the traffic lights to turn green, with tears trickling down my face as I heard Drummer Rigby’s fiancee Aimee West and step-father Ian Rigby speak for the first time.

Their grief was so absolutely raw, their statements conveyed so perfectly their sense of utter incredulity at what had transpired in Woolwich, that I’m not ashamed to say I wept with them.

A few days later I was driving through the village of Kingsley in the Staffordshire Moorlands when I spotted a Union Flag bearing the name Lee Rigby tied to a roadside bench and flanked by bouquets of flowers.

It was a simple, touching public acknowledgement of a tragedy which has stunned a nation.

Understandably, politicians of all persuasions have had to tread that fine line between condemnation and conciliation for fear of inflaming tensions between communities across the UK.

Sadly, this unspeakable act has been seized upon by extremists associating with organisations such as the English Defence League which are intent on peddling their own twisted agendas.

However, the simple truth is that despite what the perpetrators of this senseless killing might wish us to believe, there is no ‘us and them’.

The Britain of 2013 is a hugely tolerant, multi-cultural country where, for the most part, different communities and cultures rub along well.

The man with bloodied hands standing on a street in London wanting to spread his bile and hatred and justify the unjustifiable lost the argument the moment he picked up a machete.

That was when he stopped being a Muslim. Indeed, that was when he stopped being a human being.

If the men who mowed down Drummer Rigby and hacked him to death in full view of shoppers were hoping to strike terror into the hearts of the British public they failed.

We all know full well that the risk of any of us being targeted for a repeat of such a heinous crime is miniscule.

We are no less safe today than we were last Wednesday.

We also know that leaders of all faiths and true followers of Islam have condemned the killers – thereby robbing them of even the slightest shred of credibility or support.

Any of us can, by all means, disagree with the Government on anything we like – such as British troops being stationed overseas in countries like Afghanistan.

But to suggest that ‘the West’ is somehow staging a war against Muslims – as Drummer Rigby’s killers would have people believe – is utter nonsense.

The fact is that the innocent victims of the conflict in Afghanistan have been of all faiths and of none and British foreign policy is not to blame for the death of Lee Rigby.

Those awaiting trial for the murder of a young father in Woolwich last week are criminals, pure and simple: Sick individuals who don’t know right from wrong.

They haven’t achieved their aim of inflaming racial or religious tensions and they won’t persuade the Government to pull our Armed Forces out of Afghanistan any quicker.

However, what they have done is raise some other rather difficult issues for our politicians.

Questions like why we, as a nation, are unable to deport criminals who preach the kind of hatred spouted by Lee Rigby’s killers back to their country of origin because of their ‘human rights’.

Today, the alarming truth is that there are a number of individuals living in Britain who are cheerleaders for terrorists and we are powerless to get rid of them because successive governments have refused tackle the European Human Rights legislation which actually protects criminals.

Our security services can’t possibly monitor or even be aware of every radical preacher or radicalised individual and so, in my book, it would be far better to get shut of the ones we know about.

It is high time we followed the lead of countries like Australia and put the safety and well-being of the people of the UK first.

One of the great things about our democracy is that people are entitled to believe and say whatever they like – so long as it doesn’t offend or endanger someone else.

The great irony is that we seem to take a far tougher stance against people who make remarks which are offensive (because of ignorance) to others of a different ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation than we do against those who claim to be men of god but who preach a gospel of hate.

The sad truth is that you’ll have the book thrown at you for an ill-advised Tweet about gay people but you’ll be allowed to stay in the UK and we’ll keep you fed, watered and entertained if you encourage people to become terrorists.

Personally, I’d rather not have my taxes paying for food, televisions, game consoles and gym equipment for Lee Rigby’s killers for the rest of their miserable lives.

Rehabilitation? Too risky. Chance of parole? Zero. At least I hope so.

If it were up to me, if Drummer Rigby’s killers are found guilty in a court of law I’d make sure they receive the Osama treatment and their bodies would be dumped at sea.

No doubt this view won’t be popular with some readers who are opposed to the death penalty but I, for one, am through worrying about the human rights of those who show no humanity to others.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

The Football Final and a paper round… how I fell in love with newspapers

A Sentinel front page from July 1988.

A Sentinel front page from July 1988.

I can tell you exactly when I fell in love with newspapers. I would have been about 10 years old and it was The Sentinel that hooked me.

My mum and dad had the paper delivered and I would nick the Football Final and sit alone in the back room reading the brief match reports and scanning the league tables.

I remember thinking at the time that it was incredible that within an hour and a half of the final whistle a page full of information had been printed on the back of our local paper and delivered to our door.

At the age of 15 I began my paper round – delivering The Sentinel and national newspapers to homes in Sneyd Green and Smallthorne.

My ‘run’ was very hilly and was the longest of any of the paper boys and girls working out of the newsagents on Mornington Road.

The year was 1987 and I would get up at 5.30am on a school day and a similar time at weekends and have to be at the paper shop by 4.30pm each day after school.

I earned the princely sum of £5.50 per week but consoled myself with the fact that I lost a stone in weight in three months lugging that great heavy bag around.

I remember weekends being toughest because my bag was heavier – filled with numerous lifestyle supplements and magazines which the nationals produced to add value to their reader offer.

Being a paper boy helped me to develop a healthy interest in current affairs – from the trials and tribulations of ‘gender-bender’ Boy George to the kidnapping of Terry Waite and the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise.

I would browse the nationals before delivering them – something my boss Joe frowned upon because he feared complaints from customers irked by papers with creased pages.

I slowly learned the differences between each of the tabloids, began to spot the spin and the political bias, and marvelled at how the same story could be told two or three different ways.

It was while at Sixth Form College, Fenton, a couple of years after I gave up my paper round, that I applied for a job with a local press agency – determined to carve a career in journalism.

It’s no secret that sales of newspapers, both national and local, have been declining since their peak in the 1950s – never more so than following the advent of the internet.

Two of the national newspapers I delivered as a paper boy – The News of the World and Today – are no longer with us.

The former was shut down in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal while the other, which had only launched in 1986, closed nine years later due to financial pressures.

I am proud to say that having delivered both I worked for and had articles published in both during my time as a ‘stringer’ for a local press agency. Back in the mid to late Eighties newspaper circulation figures were still astonishingly high.

In 1987 the News of the World was selling an average of 5,360,000 copies a week while the Sunday Mirror was selling almost three million.

The Sun was selling almost four million copies daily and the Daily Telegraph 1.15 million copies.

The circulation of all these titles, and all regional newspapers has plummeted dramatically over the last 20 years as technology has advanced and the way in which people access information has changed – prompting many observers to predict the death of newspapers.

Far fewer people take a newspaper to work and far more work at a computer or have a phone which gives them instant access to all the news, sport and features that they want.

However, in the week that politicians carved a highly unsatisfactory deal between themselves and anti-Press activists, I’d like to think there’s life in the old dogs yet.

Blogs and the broadcast media are all well and good but, in the final analysis: No-one does in-depth like newspapers; No-one chronicles history like newspapers; No organisations do investigations like newspapers. No other media organisations have the resources to do what newspapers like The Sentinel do here in North Staffordshire.

That’s our USP and that’s why, in my opinion, even in this age of ever-changing technology newspapers still have a vital role to play.

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

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