(and women too- just quoting from Ecclesiasticus- don’t blame me.)
Memorial services in St Margaret’s Westminster (Parliament’s parish church, and part of the Abbey) are superbly well done. A magnificent building, lovely music, and the good and the great praising famous people… I was at the service on Monday giving thanks for the life of farmer and leader, Lord Plumb, and on Tuesday for Elspeth (Baroness) Howe, - Geoffrey Howe’s widow, but a very great woman in her own right. Wiltshire based NFU President Minette Batters, Baroness (Virginia) Bottomley, Sir John Major and (ex-Archbishop) Lord Carey all spoke of the huge contribution they had made to our national life and in so many other (very often very humble) ways as well. Large congregations from Parliament and families and friends (including HM the Queen Consort at Lady Howe’s service) come to pay their tributes and remember their part in the long and happy lives we were celebrating.
Mr Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, is doing a first-class job in so many ways, and with some very good new ideas. We used his house in the Autumn to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Falklands Campaign; then he initiated a Garden of Remembrance for all Parliamentarians in New Palace Yard under the splendid flag poles he has had erected. He has asked me to serve on an Advisory Committee on a new memorial at the National Arboretum in commemoration of MPs and peers, and others working in the Palace who gave their lives for their country. I am especially keen to remember Captain Victor Cazalet who was the MP here from 1924 until he died in the air crash in Gibraltar which killed General Sikorski in 1943.
On Wednesday it was a privilege to see Mr Speaker and Mrs Zelenska open an exhibition in Parliament’s Portcullis House marking the appalling war crimes of which the Russians have without a doubt been guilty in Ukraine. It’s a harrowing experience- leaving little to the imagination. But then again, it is right that we in Parliament are aware- and constantly reminded- of what is happening in Ukraine so that we can try and find some kind of a solution to it. At very least we must ensure that Putin and his cronies pay a heavy personal price for their appalling crimes against humanity.
Church Services, tokens (like the poppy), memorials, ceremony of all kinds, flags and heraldry, exhibitions, meetings- all and more could on their own have their utility questioned, in some cases even mocked. Yet it is through these visual mementoes that we sharpen our awareness of what is happening around us; and they spark thoughts and then actions to put it right.
It is right to praise great men and women and learn from and be inspired by their lives; and to note and praise great people while they are still with us, as well. Yet we must also remember Shakespeare’s ‘Wolsey’s Farewell to his Greatness’:-
“Today [man] puts forth the tender leaves of hope; tomorrow blossoms and bears his blushing honours thick upon him; the third day comes a frost, a killing frost and nips his root, and then he falls, as I do.”
Lord Plumb and Baroness Howe were not ‘tall poppies’; they were not like Icarus (or Cardinal Wolsey) flying too close to the Sun with disastrous consequences; their greatness rather lay in their ordinariness; in their empathy with people of all sorts; and with their huge labours at a very humble level. So let us now praise and take our inspiration from famous men and women - like them.