Tens of thousands of people in Stafford constituency have contributed to the commemoration of the centenary of the First World War over the past four years. Whether it is by creating wonderful poppy displays, by researching the history of relatives or local people who were involved, by undertaking projects at school or college, by performing in concerts and services, or by attending events, you have all shown that what happened 100 years ago still matters.
It matters because it shows that we cannot take for granted the peace and security which we have for the most part enjoyed since 1945. Few people in 1910, or even 1913, foresaw a European War which became a World War and cost millions of lives. Yet it happened, and it happened again just 21 years later.
I believe that governments worldwide are too complacent that such conflicts could not happen again, and therefore too little is done to ensure that they cannot. But peace requires action. It demands constantly examining where friction between or within states is arising and working to remove the causes of the friction, before it ignites into a full scale conflict which cannot easily be resolved.
Take Syria as an example. If the initial protests in early 2011 had been handled differently, and if the international community had shown more concern, we might not have seen the escalation into a terrible civil war which has costs hundreds of thousands of lives and driven millions into exile as refugees.
So what action can realistically be taken? I believe that we must start by working at peace. It is not the natural state of the world, as history sadly tells us. That involves constant bridge building between individuals, communities and nations.
Where global organisations such as the United Nations and regional bodies such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) can assist is by helping countries to support peacemakers and peacebuilders at all levels. As the UK leaves the European Union, we ourselves need to increase the work we do with these other European and international organisations to work for peace.
Then those peacemakers and peacebuilders, along with leaders in every sphere, need constantly to listen, to engage and to try to build understanding. It was Churchill who said “To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war.” There is far too little constructive ‘jaw-jaw’ in national and international politics, and far too much destructive posturing through ‘social’ media.
We also need to address the factors which can give rise to conflict – great inequalities in wealth or income, competition for resources which may increasingly be driven by climate change, and fundamental differences in religious or political beliefs.
At this point, you might reasonably object that I am asking for the impossible. That may be the case, but it will only be impossible if we have tried every means possible and failed. I would rather agree with Nelson Mandela when he said “It always seems impossible until it is done.”