It was a rare privilege to sit a few feet away from the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, in the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords last week to hear her (more or less) apologise for the two World Wars and thank and congratulate the British for standing up both to the Kaiser and to Nazism. A portrait of the first German King of Britain, George I (who could apparently speak less English than Frau Merkel) smiled down from above her head, and her ‘naughty nephew’ David Cameron kept up a warm glow, even as she spoke approvingly of “European unification.”
Her argument that the EU had kept the peace in Europe for fifty years was belied by events in the Balkans (Bosnia seems on the point of collapse), and in that aspirant European nation, the Ukraine. As I write, the situation there looks graver than any crisis since the end of the Cold War. Russian invasion (or something which amounts to it) seems very possible; and NATO will almost certainly have to do something in reaction to it. I am firmly of the view that the Ukraine is an independent nation state, and that the people must be allowed to decide their own future without interference from Russia or anywhere else. Ignoring that right in any way would fatally undermine our belief in democracy and a free liberal economy.
The whole thing could quite easily spiral out of control; and there are umbilical links to Syria, Iran, even the war against Al Qaeda. Is the EU really relevant in such a seismic shifting of the geopolitical tectonic plates? I am not sure that Chancellor Merkel’s fixation with saving the Euro has much significance alongside what could become epoch-shaping developments between us and the Urals.
There is only one thing to do in times of grave international crisis: get on with one’s everyday work. So surgeries in Calne and Royal Wootton Bassett on Saturday saw 17 cases involving: income tax on the self-employed; yobbos and anti-social behaviour; a spouse’s visa application; planning and over-development; town council behaviour; a dispute with landlords over too many cats; fairtrade bananas; CJD; landlord and tenant relations; long-term care for dementia patients; road safety and badly marked bollards; developments at Lyneham; a homeless family in Malmesbury; North Korea, the village hall sell-off and an unwanted Tesco development.
Of such things are the reality of political and constituency life - and I enjoy surgeries greatly, and am glad to do whatever I can to help. But they are a very far cry from the Royal Gallery, Chancellor Merkel and events in the Crimea.
Perhaps it is that very contrast which makes an MP’s life so interesting and fulfilling.