David Miliband – 2008 Speech at the UK/Caribbean Ministerial Forum


Below is the text of the speech made by David Miliband on 15th July 2008 at the Foreign Office and the UK/Caribbean Ministerial Forum.

Well good evening everyone. A very, very warm welcome to you all to the Foreign Office. This is the Locarno room, where the Peace Treaty of Locarno was signed just after the First World War. So you are extremely welcome here.

I especially want to welcome obviously the leaders from 10 friends in the Caribbean, ten countries who are deep and long-standing allies, and who are here for the UK-Caribbean Forum.

I also want to introduce my friend and colleague Meg Munn, whose ministerial duties include the countries that are represented in the Caribbean forum, and also Gareth Thomas, who is Minister for Trade.

Though distinguished are all of those visitors, I hope all of you will understand if I single out a different group for mention tonight, because we have representatives here from the Windrush generation.

I think we all know that the word “Windrush” has entered the British lexicon, the British vocabulary, in a very, very profound way. The Windrush generation are an inspiration, an example, a set of leaders for values and commitments that I think are very important for the whole of British society, and it’s important the week after we have celebrated the 60th anniversary of the National Health Service to remember the contribution of the Windrush generation and their successors to the whole history of the National Health Service. Actually, I think you can make the case that the strength – and the enduring strength – of the National Health Service in part owes to what those generations did at all levels of the Health Service in the 1950s and 1960s and beyond.

And that is a symbol of a commitment right across British society. The 800,000 Britons of Caribbean origin, Caribbean heritage – some are ministers, some are lawyers, some are parents, and teachers in schools – they are all massive contributors to our society, and the enduring link that exists between our governments is only, in a way, possible because of the people-to-people links that join us together, so I hope you’ll excuse me if I give a special welcome to them here.

That generation I think helped to shape me. I went to a school in inner London where 64 different languages were spoken – people came from a whole range of backgrounds. And I’m proud that we’ve become a society that’s better not just at promoting “tolerance”, which is a very minimalist way of thinking about other human beings, but actually at promoting respect and welcome for the benefits that diversity brings. There’s still a way to go, but we’ve come a long way and I think it’s important to recognise that.

It’s also important to say I’m really delighted that the Secretary General of the Commonwealth is here – the new Secretary General of the Commonwealth – Kamalesh Sharma, formerly the very distinguished Indian High Commissioner in London, now taken off his post as High Commissioner, and so I hope you’ll all be lobbying him as well tonight.

We’ve got two days of really serious work ahead of us. And I think at the heart of our discussions – we’re going to have detailed discussions about a whole range of issues – but I think at the heart of our discussions is the question of how we take our relationship to a new dimension.

We know the relationship we used to have, we know the relationship we’ve got, I think our challenge over the next two days is to map out our relationship for the future that is based on shared values, and I do want to applaud the statement of CARICOM only in the last few days about the situation in Zimbabwe, because the situation in that country is a challenge to all of our values.

This has got to be a community of values but it can also be a community of interests, and we’re going to talking over the next few days about crime and security, which is a massive issue in your countries but also a massive issue in our country. We’re going to be talking about food security, and food affordability, which are issues in both of our countries.

We’ll also be talking about something which probably wouldn’t have appeared on our agenda five or ten years ago – certainly it wasn’t on the agenda at the first meeting in Nassau in 1998 – which is the issue of climate change.

Because some of you are able to talk about the challenge of climate change as a reality and not as a theory. And that I think is something that is very important in helping the world wake up to the challenges that it faces.

I think it’s important that we’re honest about the fact that our relationship is changing and it’s changing because circumstances are changing, but I think it can be as strong as ever, not just at a government-to-government level, but also at a business level, which is why the trade round is so important, and at a people-to-people level, because in a way the people-to-people links are growing – obviously tourism – but they are also growing through the contribution of people of Caribbean heritage to our country and the links that they have back to the Caribbean. And I hope that’s something that we can in the next couple of days build on.

One of my favourite poems is a poem with the title “Roots and Wings” and it’s about how community is really important to people . If you don’t have deep roots you don’t have security. But it’s also about the fact that on their own, roots are not enough. The purpose of a decent society is to help individuals grow wings to be able to see the world, to engage with all the challenges and opportunities that the world has got. And in a way I hope that that notion – strong roots, strong wings – will really inspire us over the next few days. The meetings that we’ll have with a range of ministers, and also with the prime minister, I think will give us a chance to map the way for a confident and strong future between Britain as a whole as well as the British government and the countries and people of the Caribbean.

And on that note, I can think of no better person to second this word of welcome and introduction than Baldwin Spencer, the Prime Minister, and Foreign Minister as well, of Antigua, a man whom I now know from having met him first of all in November in Uganda, a man who has links to the Miliband family that I didn’t know about.

This isn’t an unknown part of my heritage that I’m about to reveal, but Baldwin had – I would say the good fortune – but he had the fortune to be a student of my father’s while he was a student in the UK and that brought home to me that while our countries can seem a long way apart there are actually more meeting points than many of us realise.

Baldwin , you are co-chairing the forum over the next couple of days. You’re extremely welcome to the Foreign Office as a friend of Britain as well as a friend of the Milibands and I am merely the appetiser for your main speech tonight.

So on that note, welcome to the UK-Caribbean forum, thank you for coming tonight and please give a warm welcome to Baldwin Spencer. Thank you very much.