Last Friday, after I got home after a long day of constituency meetings which culminated in the latest of my fish-and-chips-and-debate evenings at the Grantham Museum, I was exhausted.
But I started watching the coverage of the events commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day and two and a half hours later was still awake and still enthralled. Such was their impact that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since. Maybe it’s because I am older now. Or maybe it’s because it’s almost a year since the death of my father, who served in the Rifle Brigade in the closing months of the war. But whatever the reason, I now see that June 6, 1944, holds lessons for us that will survive long after the last of the heroes of Gold and Sword have left this mortal coil. First, that this country means something, that Britain is a cause that is worth fighting for. We should not be ashamed to say that there is something finer and more noble about British values than the values espoused by other great powers through history. Michael Gove is right to insist that all schools should actively promote British values so that everyone growing up as a British citizen, whatever their race or religion, drinks deep from the well that produced William Wilberforce, Emily Pankhurst, Winston Churchill and William Beveridge. The second lesson is that the greatest things that this nation has done were the work of the Scots and the Welsh, the English and the Northern Irish working together. The United Kingdom is not just a marriage of economic convenience or a constitutional relic: it is an amazing story full of remarkable people and extraordinary achievements. We should strain every sinew to convince our Scottish cousins that the story is one that they, too, can be proud of, and that the rest of us in this unique family of nations would be bereft if they decided to leave us. The final lesson is the simplest of all: that life is short and whenever the end comes the only thing that matters is whether you fought for what you believe, and for the people you love. In 70 years, or 700 years, these three lessons will remain true. And the liberation of those Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944, will live on as a symbol of humanity at its most heroic.