I am honoured today to speak at this twinning event in Warstein, marking 50 years of friendship between your town and St Pol sur Ternoise. More recently, Hebden Bridge and Mythomroyd – 'Hebden Royd' – joined the partnership, so I am here to congratulate you for beginning an arrangement which brings so much pleasure and understanding to the area I represent.
I have been asked to make this speech personal, like the speech that I made in May, in St Pol. So, forgive me if what I say is too open and direct.
Let me begin by stating that this event is not just a formality for me. It is an opportunity to say how important I think our three-way links are.
I come from a family that has been shaped by the two world wars. Both grandfathers were in the first world war, and one of them – whose mother was German incidentally - died just before I was born partly from injuries sustained during the Battle of Mons that he lived with for decades; my father was in the second world war , initially on Arctic convoys, supplying a state he loathed, the Soviet Union, before moving on to the Mediterranean and the Far East, fighting, as he saw it, for the British Empire, which ceased to exist, much to his consternation, soon after the war ended. When I grew up, my father cried out almost every night because of his memories of that terrible Arctic campaign. Because of my father's trauma, for a long while, I found it very difficult to acknowledge anything that happened after the last world war, even my own experience, as real. But recently I have started to come to terms with what it all meant, and how it affects me, and this has enabled me to move on and understand both my father's life and mine a lot more.
I have never thought the conflicts of the last century were between our cultures and peoples, not least because my father always made me very conscious of my German ancestry. We were forced to fight one another by circumstances beyond our control. The fault lay with the international order. World War One demonstrated the failure of world imperialism; world war two exposed the flaws of competitive nationalism and ideologies that sought straightforward answers to complex problems.
And that is why twinning is so important. After so much needless conflict, it shows that we can enjoy what we have in common and our differences too; we can appreciate the rich complexity of different societies, of our diverse European culture and our fundamental humanity. Through twinning, we re-discover the values that make our societies function: co-operation and solidarity. Twinning is one of the most fruitful dialogues open to people of different nations because we get to know one another as friends, as members of families, individuals with personal histories, as well as the products of cultures and national histories. Twinning can remind us that, in the words – actually the last words that he wrote - of one of my favourite English poets, W H Auden
What they call History
is …………..made …
by the criminal in us:
goodness is timeless
I find those words very moving because it reaffirms what we all know: that goodness is ordinary. You can find it in our families, our homes and our kitchens, in the things we do for others. Whilst twinning offers fascinating perspectives about other cultures which one can never get from a holiday, it also allows us to share the goodness that exists in our domestic lives.
Speaking personally, I also find it gives me new ideas for cooking. Be warned, I am on the lookout for recipes, particularly ones that could appeal to my six year old.
I hope you have not found these thoughts too weighty; I decided I should end it with a reference to one of my greatest interests: home cooking, and leave it at that. Thank you.
Added: Friday, 5 September 2014