Last month, I wrote that we have always to work at peace – it does not occur naturally. This Christmas, it would be easy to be discouraged when peace and goodwill seem to be in short supply: Syria’s civil war, Yemen’s suffering population, China and the USA contemplate escalating a trade war; and tensions between Russia and Ukraine spring to mind.
However, in the course of my work, I come across many whose nature and role is to ‘pour oil on troubled waters’. For example, Police officers and PCSOs, social workers, street pastors, teachers, community workers, A&E Staff, members of the Armed Forces on peacekeeping duty overseas to name but a few. I salute their courage as they defuse tense or dangerous situations, their ability to keep calm in the face of provocation.
Their work is a vocation, putting the needs of other people above their own. It is that spirit of selflessness which keeps people together whether in families, communities or countries.
Whatever the final result of the Parliamentary votes on leaving the EU – and as I write, the Prime Minister has delayed them – the future will be determined to a considerable extent by our willingness to work together for the benefit of all. That means addressing the poverty and its causes faced by many of our fellow citizens – which I freely acknowledge we too often fail to do in government.
Working together with countries, businesses and people in Europe and across the world will also be vital. Last week, I hosted the Chinese Ambassador in Stafford as he visited GE and Perkins. He saw for himself how the products and services of our businesses are in demand globally, including with Chinese companies. He also visited the excellent local charity New Directions where he cut the cake to celebrate its 5th birthday.
At Shugborough, he heard from one of the great team of volunteers how Admiral Anson’s crew had helped put out the fire which threatened to destroy Canton in 1747; and he saw the Chinese dinner service which was given to the Admiral in gratitude. Visitors to Shugborough this year will exceed 200,000. I am hoping that the Ambassador’s visit will encourage more visitors from China to visit this Staffordshire jewel.
This week, I have the honour as the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Ethiopia of helping to launch Ethiopian Airlines’ new service from Manchester Airport to Addis Ababa. As Africa’s largest airline – and a major customer of Rolls Royce and Airbus – it will bring people and businesses across Africa closer to the Midlands and North. The UK’s trade with Ethiopia and other African countries has grown significantly in the last few years. British citizens are also some of the most frequent visitors for tourism, business or family. This new service should make these connections easier.
As we approach Christmas, the celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace, it seems to me more important than ever to try to build bridges between people, communities and nations, and it is in that spirit that I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and Peaceful New Year.