THE Queen’s annual Christmas message, far more thoughtful and contemplative than the exploitative bookmaker who erroneously predicted an abdication announcement, had particular resonance when Her Majesty observed: “Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people, of whatever faith or none.”
The words were even more poignant because they were delivered on the centenary of the Christmas Truce, and at the end of a symbolic year underpinned by commemorative events to recognise the outbreak of the First World War 100 years ago and the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
This year of reflection helped to shape a very humble address which had the theme of reconciliation at its core, whether in a historical context or with regard to events closer to her home in Northern Ireland following the Queen’s visit to Belfast or in Scotland following September’s deeply divisive referendum vote.
The subliminal message was a powerful one – Britain is at its strongest when it is united and when the whole country is pulling together in the name of peace. It is also equally pertinent to the selflessness of those UK aid workers who have sacrificed their Christmas to help victims of the Ebola epidemic in Africa, and Britain’s humanitarian response when a wall of water claimed at least 230,000 lives in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.
It is testament to the resilience of the defenceless communities that were washed away, and the generosity of the global response, that so many shattered towns and villages have been able to come to terms with this unparalleled natural disaster.
Yet, while the Overseas Development Institute is among those to use today’s 10th anniversary to highlight flaws in the rescue mission, and specifically the allocation of key funds, the simple fact of the matter is that this was uncharted territory for the aid charities and their volunteers who were working in unspeakable conditions because the basic infrastructure had been destroyed.
Mistakes were inevitable, but it is imperative that these concerns do not polarise, still further, the political debate about Britain’s commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on overseas aid. It will be a sad day if the UK, one of the world’s leading economic powers, does not have the compassion to help impoverished nations to recover from natural disasters, or to build a self-sufficient economy that is less dependent on the goodwill of others.
The challenge is making sure that this money actually reaches its intended recipients, and it is to the credit of Rotherham-born Justine Greening, the current International Development Secretary, that she is demanding far more transparency, If only her predecessors, Labour and Conservative, had been so enlightened. For, if stricter protocols had been put in place, Ukip would not be able to hijack this issue as part of its ‘Little Englander’ agenda which is so at odds with the Queen’s respectfulness. It is because Britain’s world status that hope can be found “in the unlikeliest of places” – whether it be in No Man’s Land or after a tsunami – and this should never be forgotten.