Lord John Sharkey’s maiden speech

LDV has been bringing you the words of our new representatives as they speak for the first time in the Houses of Parliament. We bring you maiden speeches from new MPs and new members of the House of Lords. You can find an archive of all maiden speeches we’ve published by clicking this link. If you think we’ve missed someone, do please drop us a line.

Lord Sharkey: My Lords, it is a great privilege and a great honour to join your Lordships’ House. It has also been a great pleasure because of the immense kindness shown to me by my supporters, the noble Baronesses, Lady Scott and Lady Bonham-Carter, and noble Lords from all parts of this House, and the kindness and apparently endless patience of all its officials.

My working life to date has been chiefly concerned with the communications industry and, in the past six years or so as a trustee of the Hansard Society, with the study of our parliamentary and democratic institutions. I hope to speak on these topics in your Lordships’ House in the future. The Motion before your Lordships today presents me with an opportunity to speak on perhaps my longest-standing and most enduring interest outside the UK: Turkey. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece for introducing the subject today and for speaking so well and persuasively on such an important matter.

My own involvement with Turkey goes back 45 years to my first visit. I have managed to revisit the country almost every year since, once or twice for extended periods. Twenty years ago I was charged, with my noble friend Lord Dobbs, by the then Turkish Government with helping to expedite progress towards membership of the EU. This speech is not a way of making good that long-ago obligation. I understand the convention that requires maiden speeches to be uncontroversial, and how easily remarks about the Turkish position vis-à-vis the EU or the Middle East may be characterised as controversial. I will accordingly confine my remarks largely to my own experience of and reflections on Turkey and the Turks, and simply note some of the more striking facts.

In my 45 years of contact with Turkey I have, as you might expect, seen profound change. I have also seen some things remain constant throughout this period. I remember vividly how struck I was by the graceful and unforced hospitality of a traditional Islamic culture. I am struck now that this tradition survives such major political, social and economic changes. I was also struck by the strong sense of a European cultural heritage, not just in the great Roman and Byzantine monuments in Istanbul, but in the astounding remains of Ephesus and other Greek towns, and in the huge underground early Christian cities of Cappadocia.

I am conscious, too, in conversations with Turkish friends and business colleagues, of the central role that Europe and the idea of Europe has played in shaping post-Ottoman Turkish thinking and the post-Ottoman Turkish state. No speech about Turkey would be complete without respectful reference to the architect of this modern Turkish state, Kemal Ataturk, his admiration and respect for European institutions, his vision of Turkey in Europe and his creation of a secular Turkish state modelled on European lines.

As I have revisited Turkey over the years, often on business, I have been deeply impressed by the changes I have seen. What was, when I first encountered it, a broadly agrarian economy, has in the intervening years transformed itself into a modern and powerful industrial nation. When I first visited Istanbul, it was a city which contained sellers of medicinal leeches, itinerant letter writers and the occasional dancing bear-all quite romantic if your fancy lies that way. Now when I visit the city, I see home-grown multinational companies, vibrant stock exchanges, well regulated and well funded banks and a proud and strong cultural tradition, continuous with the past, in which the influence of the European and of the Ottoman is clearly and proudly visible.

Other speakers today will be better qualified than I am to talk in detail about the economic importance of Turkey to the EU and to the region, but I would like simply to point out that already by 2007 the EU accounted for 56 per cent of Turkey’s exports and for 41 per cent of its imports. Turkey ranks seventh in the EU’s top import markets and fifth in its top export markets. But perhaps one of the most striking ways of illustrating Turkey’s strategic and economic importance in the EU and in the region is to look at modern Istanbul, European Capital of Culture for 2010. A research paper published in December by the Brookings Institution, the LSE and Deutsche Bank looked at the economic fortunes of the world’s top 150 global metropolitan economies. The study shows Istanbul to have beaten Beijing and Shanghai to claim the title of “most dynamic metro city”.

The second part of my noble friend’s Motion calls attention to the strategic role of Turkey in Europe and in the region. This strategic role has, I think, been pretty evident from economic, political and military perspectives for most of the past 2,000 years. It was certainly recognised by the Greeks in antiquity and by their Roman successors. Constantine the Great made it the capital of the Eastern Empire and Anatolia was the breadbasket of both the Byzantines and the Ottomans. It is recognised by modern Europeans in modem times too. Herman Van Rompuy said, just before last Christmas:

“The EU should develop a close partnership with Ankara, without waiting for the outcome of accession negotiations”.

In our own times Istanbul and Anatolia are the fulcrum on which the interests of the established West and the emerging Near East are finely balanced. One has only to think about Turkey’s geographical position, its membership of NATO, its neighbours in every direction, its function as a conduit for the oil, gas and goods from the East, its economic strength and resilience, the youth of its population and its energy and cultural creativity to realise how strategically critical Turkey is to the EU and to the region. We must reflect also on the merits of having a Muslim nation, secular and democratic in government, as a good, willing and valued neighbour. All this, or most of it anyway, became true and important in 1453. It remains true and important in 2011. I truly believe that Turkey’s economic and strategic role is important to us and that it deserves the most careful consideration.

NB naming conventions – it is, strictly speaking, probably inaccurate to refer to the newly ennobled John Sharkey as Lord John Sharkey. However, we suspect many in the Lib Dems will know him as John Sharkey and getting used to the Lord bit will take some time.

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  • Is this the John Sharkey of Saatchi and Saatchi who has never been elected and who was a Thatcher apologist?
    If so it says it it says all about what the LibDems really are 🙂

    John Sharkey is the Deputy Prime Minister’s Strategic Communications Advisor and was Chair of the Liberal Democrat’s General Election Campaign.
    John has held many high profile positions, in particular he was Chairman and co-founder of the advertising agency Bainsfair Sharkey Trott, Managing Director of Saatchi and Saatchi UK, with responsibility for running Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 election advertising campaign and assisting the Turkish Government in their preparations for accession into the EU. He was also Deputy Chairman of Saatchi International, Chairman of BDDP Holdings Ltd, Chief Operating Officer at Blue Arrow Plc and Chairman of Highland Partners Europe.

  • John, Lord Blah 22nd Jan '11 - 10:49pm

    Perhaps we could call him John, Lord Sharkey? That at least is correct.
    John, Lord Sharkey; Peter, Lord Mandelson; Susan, Baroness Kramer etc

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