I was surprised and honoured to be invited, by the French organisation, the Open Diplomacy Institute, to be one of the first group of international parliamentarians to take part in the Normandy Peace Forum as the inaugural class of ‘Parliamentarians for Peace’ (P4P). The Forum had been delayed due to Covid-19 but is normally held in June, to mark the D-Day landings which heralded the beginning of the end of World War 2.
It was interesting to work with colleagues from France, Norway, Canada, South Africa, Lebanon, India, Senegal, Taiwan and Brazil who were also from different political backgrounds. Despite this, we always managed to reach consensus on what was important. We were all disappointed not to be able to attend the Peace Forum in person, at the start of October but, after all the Zoom workshops over the summer, it does feel like we have come to know each other and I look forward to meeting my P4P colleagues in person at next years Normandy Peace Forum.
The aim of the project was that we would work together over two months to select key topics that we felt were driving grievance and conflict and, therefore, increasing the danger of war. Some of these were obvious, including the recent failure of governments to work together through multilateral political structures, such as the UN or WHO, on challenges facing the whole global community. Indeed we see a growing disregard for such bodies and a lack of respect for international law from some of the worlds biggest players such as the US, Russia and China. On the 75th anniversary of the UN it is critical that forums are widened to include parliamentarians as well as Governments, and to involve more civic bodies to give voice to the needs of the people of the world.
Currently, governments are consumed by the challenge of COVID-19 and unfortunately, the isolationist responses have highlighted the failure of multilateralism and global cooperation. However, while COVID-19 is a danger in the short and medium term, we are running out of time to tackle the climate crisis which will dominate the lives of our children and their children for generations. We are simply not taking enough action as individuals, businesses, nations or as a global community. As resources become scarce, friction within and between nations will increase. While recent wars were about oil, future wars will be about access to water and fertile land - the basic needs of life.
If we are not to destroy our planet, we need to turn the focus of Governments away from the obsession with GDP growth and relentless consumption onto a ‘Wellbeing Economy’. This refers to a more integrated approach to improving ‘health’, rather than just managing of ‘illness’ and promotes long term policies, across all government departments, to improve the physical, mental, social, economic and environmental wellbeing of every citizen. Recognising their responsibility to both current and future generations encourages governments to consider the long-term impact of their policy decisions. Fairness and social justice are central to this approach, with a recognition of the need to invest in human potential rather than seeing education or healthcare as an expensive drain on the national coffers.
As a cancer specialist for over thirty years, it was always striking how those facing their own mortality suddenly became very clear sighted about what is really important in life - our health and our loved ones - as the obsession with wealth and possessions simply falls away.
While it may be wealthier countries that are starting to wake up to the need for a change in direction, a Wellbeing Economic approach is not just a luxury for countries that can afford it. If we take a ‘Wellbeing’ approach to global fairness and development, it would naturally lead us to recognise our culpability for climate change and generation of the mountains and oceans of toxic plastic waste that are choking the planet.
Our materialistic societies, in which we have been programmed to consume and have lost all sense of contentment, are not a good economic model to follow. Admitting this honestly would allow lower income countries to skip over our polluting and consumerist phases to actually look at what investments and developments would generate the biggest improvements in general wellbeing for their citizens.
Inequality and unfairness drives grievances, both within and between nations, and can lead to revolution or war. In contrast, an international focus on long term policies for multigenerational wellbeing could help promote peace and stability into the future.
Prior to becoming a Member of Parliament, Philippa Whitford was a Consultant Breast Cancer Surgeon. She first became actively involved in politics during Scotland’s Independence Referendum, campaigning with ‘Women for Independence’ and as a founding member of ‘NHS for YES’. She subsequently stood for the SNP in the 2015 General Election and was appointed the SNP Health Spokesperson at Westminster.