FIFTY days ago, Britain was, once again, in awe of the heroic work of the emergency services as the nation came to terms with the Grenfell Tower disaster – and the catastrophic loss of life.
Yet, while the political repercussions continue to reverberate and a criminal inquiry gathers pace at London’s tomb in the sky that claimed at least 80 lives, it’s important that this country properly honours those who ran towards danger while others ran away.
Hollow-sounding platitudes will not, and must not, suffice.
It was brought home by ITV’s chilling documentary, Inside London Fire Brigade, in which battle-hardened firefighters revealed, for the first time, the risks that they faced fighting the capital’s largest fire since the Blitz.
Their horror and disbelief was audible as they arrived on the scene as flames engulfed the tower block. In 1,000 degrees of searing heat, they had to make life and death decisions as masonry fell around them amid fears that the whole building would collapse.
The footage was put together with remarkable sensitivity and one firefighter summed up the spirit of those involved in the rescue operation: “If it was going to collapse, we were going to die trying.”
Why does this matter?
Grenfell Tower followed weeks of anguish, and tragedy, in Britain that was precipitated by the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester in which the response of civilians, and the rescue services, represented the best of humanity.
It meant the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, published in June, was rather incongruous because it was too late to honour those whose actions went above and beyond the call of duty.
It’s not too late. Having watched this documentary, I’m even more convinced that the New Year honours should be devoted exclusively to the nation’s selfless heroes and heroines whose actions spared many more lives from being lost in each and every disaster this year up and down the land.
No penpushers, no jobsworths, no celebrities, no sports stars, just a one-off list that honours each and every individual from firefighters to NHS medics, taxi drivers or those who opened their homes to strangers and whose response to tragedy and adversity represented the best of Britain.
And I’d go further. I’d give every recipient the same medal rather than differentiating between Knighthoods, CBEs, MBEs, OBEs and BEMs. The response of each and every person, in varying ways, was extraordinary.
It’s the least that the Queen, Theresa May and the country can do, isn’t it?
BORN and brought up in the West Riding, Charlie Pye-Smith’s lifelong love of agriculture, and the countryside, is self-evident in his timely new book Land Of Plenty: A Journey through the Fields & Foods of Modern Britain.
It’s not just recommended reading for all those who have a special affinity with rural Britain, warts and all, but it should be top of the summer reading list for every Cabinet minister. If Brexit is to work for all, the country needs a farming and food policy that is fit for purpose.
At least Michael Gove, the ever enthusiastic Environment Secretary, appears to recognise this – but he’s still to convince the Prime Minister and Chancellor that the rural economy counts. I’m struggling to remember when Theresa May or Philip Hammond last spoke about rural affairs.
They risk becoming as ignorant as the customer who complained about a chicken that he had purchased from a farmers’ market, an anecdote recounted by Mr Pye-Smith.
“You’ve sold me a dud,” pointed out the purchaser before complaining, indignantly, that the chicken only had two legs and he had been expecting four “which is how they come in a supermarket pack”.
I SEE Transport Secretary Chris Grayling remains of the view that the HS2 high-speed rail line should be sufficient to appease the North when it comes to infrastructure investment.
Yet the question is whether passengers will be able to afford to travel between Yorkshire and London by train? If, as I suspect, HS2 fares can only be afforded by the super-rich, I can see prices on existing routes being hiked significantly.
The justification will be that they’re still cheaper than HS2.
I’d like to think that Mr Grayling might have a view on this but, three months on, he’s still to respond to repeated requests in this column for a definitive timetable on improvements to the trans-Pennine route.
He now says his critics, of which I am one, are ‘mischief making’. I dare him to come to Yorkshire to repeat this slander...
LET’S hope the BBC’s coverage of the World Athletics Championships in London is better than last week’s World Swimming Championships where the over-use of the word ‘absolutely’ by the tiresome commentators Andy Jamieson and Stephen Parry almost put its serial misuse by Radio 5 Live’s resident motor-mouth George Riley to shame.
GIVEN Prince Philip’s service to Queen and country included 22,219 solo engagements, and 5,496 speeches, before he bowed out of public life on Wednesday, I’m just surprised there weren’t more gaffes. His was a thankless task and the very occasional slip-up should not detract from his wider service as he puts his feet up and attempts – Corgis permitting – to work out how to use the TV remote control at Buck House.