IN the run up to Christmas 2019, it seems more important than ever to make people from other countries feel welcome.

It was, therefore, an honour, as Deputy Lieutenant of County Durham, to attend a ceremony at Darlington Town Hall in which 21 new British citizens were sworn in.

They came from India, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Holland, Kuwait, The Phillipines and Pakistan.

And the highlight for me was the involvement of pupils from Northwood Primary School.

The children had learned facts about each of the countries represented and stood up to read them out as a touching welcome.

What a lovely idea to involve children in such a prestigious ceremony and increase their understanding of other cultures.

Ban Al-Sammarray was among the new citizens, along with her children Kamal, 11, Omniah, 16, Tarah, 18, and baby Yasmin.

The family have relocated from Holland and Ban said: “I have family here and there are better opportunities for my children. We have been made to feel very welcome.”

IN the Mayor’s Parlour, ahead of the citizenship ceremony, I couldn’t help noticing something incongruous amongst the historic artefacts – a giant bar of Toblerone.

The Mayor, Councillor Nick Wallis, explained that he was raffling the enormous nutty chocolate, with proceeds going to Darlington’s food bank. The winning ticket will be drawn today, and I have high hopes.

However, the winner will certainly not be Darlington’s first female council leader Heather Scott. Although she happily made a donation, she refused a ticket because of an aversion to Toblerone that goes back to her childhood.

When she was growing up, Heather lived in Westmorland and was playing with friends when a lorry caught fire. It happened to be laden with bars of Toblerone and the kids capitalised on the ensuing chaos by helping themselves.

Heather admits she was one of those tempted to “liberate” one of the bars, but she’s been left with a lifelong hatred of Toblerone.

“I still can’t eat one because it reminds me of the taste of burnt rubber,” she said.

LIKE many others, I was sad to hear of the death of County Durham and Darlington Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg, who died from motor neurone disease last week.

Ron was a very decent man, who wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo, particularly over drugs legislation.

He also did a great deal in the short time since his diagnosis to raise awareness of motor neurone disease and the right to die.

Mike Barton recalled the time, shortly after he became Durham’s Chief Constable in 2012, when he received a call from the Durham University Debating Society asking him to speak in favour of the “War on drugs”.

Mike had already decided he wanted to take the opposite view, calling for radical drug reform, but wasn’t sure how his new Police and Crime Commissioner, Ron Hogg, would take it.

Soon afterwards, they were in a car together and he broke the news to Ron about the call from the debating society and how he felt about the need for Class A drugs to be decriminalised and addicts treated and cared for instead of being prosecuted.

He needn’t have worried because Ron had received the same call and, completely independently, reached the identical  conclusion about which side he wanted to take.

“All our drug reform policy came from a conversation in the back of the car that day and I realised then that I had an ally who wanted to tackle the status quo on drugs,” said Mike. “Ron came across as a very affable, likeable man and he certainly was – but he was also extremely passionate and determined about drug reform.”

Rest in peace, Ron.

THE fight for the Labour leadership amid the wreckage of a disastrous election result is clearly a hugely important matter.

However, I object to the way the BBC’s Deputy Political Editor John Pienaar compared it to The Great War.

Here’s what he wrote: “Brave infantrymen in the muddy trenches of the Great War would hurl themselves onto the barbed wire to allow their comrades to march over their backs and advance towards the guns of the enemy.

“Can you imagine doing that? No, me neither.

“It’s maybe no easier to see why there’s already a line of Labour politicians preparing to join the battle to succeed Jeremy Corbyn...”

It’s a lazy and objectionable analogy, in the same way that sports reporters should be banned from likening football matches to “wars”.

Merry Christmas everyone – and a peaceful New Year.