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Straight Talking - December 2010

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Roger Helmer's electronic newsletter from Strasbourg

Please feel free to distribute this newsletter, or to quote from it. It is primarily written for Conservative Party members and activists in the East Midlands, but may also be of interest to others concerned about developments in the EU. If you receive the newsletter second-hand and want to go onto the
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Cold days in Cancun

The days I spent at the UN COP16 Climate Conference in Cancun, Mexico, this month were the coldest December days in that city since records began. The chilly curse of the UN Climate Conference strikes again -- as in Poznan in '08 and Copenhagen in '09. Perhaps God has a sense of humour.

The post-conference spin has been extraordinary. It's been hailed as a turn-around from the failure in Copenhagen, and (according to Lib-Dem Climate Change Minister Chris Huhne) a turning-point in the global battle against climate change.

So what did it achieve? As I predicted during the event, they've come up with initiatives on forestry, on technology transfer, and on a Climate Fund for developing countries -- though previous experience shows that promises by cash-strapped Western governments of big bucks tomorrow often fail to materialise. I read that our proposed contribution to the proposed fund would be about equivalent to what we expect to save by raising student fees, just to put it into perspective.

Beyond that, they've re-stated some general aspirations, and re-hashed some un-met commitments from last year. If that's a great turning-point, then I'm the Tooth Fairy.

As I predicted, there was absolutely nothing like a binding agreement on emissions limits. They're already assuaging their disappointment by whistling in the wind about "stepping stones on the way to a binding deal in Durban in 2011". Some hope.

Check my photos from Mexico

Meantime my climate campaign is up and running, with posters in all the major East Midlands cities. I've naturally had one or two carping voices asking about the cost of the exercise (especially from the left-wing press). But it's the job of parliamentarians to inform constituents about their work and the issues they're dealing with, and all MEPs receive funding for that purpose. If I didn't use it, it would simply revert to the parliament -- not get refunded to tax-payers. Critics would do better to worry about the £700 Billion that the government proposes to throw away on green climate policies, not the cost of a few billboards.

For more detail on the conference, there's a series of articles on my blog.

Two books and a press article

Melanie Phillips, "The World Turned Upside Down".
I did a Bruges Group fringe meeting at our Party Conference in Birmingham in October (seems ages ago!) and I had the pleasure of sharing a platform with Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail. She's just published her new book, and I've been reading it on the plane to Straz.

I love her acerbic and mordant style, and her glorious intolerance of cant, humbug and political correctness. She is genuinely concerned that the anti-discrimination, multicultural doctrines that have infected our political and media establishment, and the chattering classes generally, are a direct challenge to freedom of speech -- a new "soft totalitarianism". You can support any religion or pseudo-religion or cult, provided it isn't Christianity (or Judaism), in which case you expect no respect or protection. You can adopt any gender orientation or indeed sexual deviancy, provided you don't speak up for good, old-fashioned, plain-vanilla, one-man-one-woman, nuclear family heterosexuality. You can speak up for any country, so long as it's not America or Israel. And you can take any view you like on climate change, so long as you support AGW theory and are prepared to see the government waste billions on futile mitigation attempts.

Her chapter on the climate issue is one of the best summaries of the sceptic case that I've seen.

I don't agree with all her points. While I share her concern about the unnecessary stridency of militant atheists like Richard Dawkins, I can't support her obvious doubts about evolution (I have been a fan of Charles Darwin for many years). Nevertheless this is a heartening and refreshing book that deserves a place in every conservative's Christmas stocking. www.encounterbooks.com. US price $23.95. I paid £13.99.

Tim Worstall: "Chasing Rainbows: How the green agenda defeats its aims".
This is the latest book in the excellent Independent Minds series from Stacey International (£8.99). Worstall looks at green policies with an economist's eye, and points up some of the absurdities. For example so many politicians commend renewables because they create lots of jobs (they say). But for the economist, making a process (like energy generation) more labour-intensive is a cost, not a benefit, and will make electricity more expensive and our economy less competitive. Worstall points out that everyone commends recycling, yet no one has properly analysed the resources used in recycling -- for some materials, recycling may well deliver negative benefits in both economic and environmental terms.

He has one absolute classic: the "Feed-In Tariffs" for various renewable technologies have been designed to deliver around an 8% return on investment -- regardless of which technology. So the normal market mechanisms that direct resources to the most efficient production methods, and the market signals that create efficiencies, are destroyed at the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen.

The most interesting thing about the book is that nowhere does he challenge the underlying AGW theory. He argues that even if AGW is true (and many of us dispute that), even so the remedies are worse than the disease. For those following the economics of the climate debate, this should be compulsory reading.

Bjorn Lomborg on Climate Economics: FT: Dec 10th. (though you have to fight your way through the pay-wall).

Like Worstall, Lomborg accepts AGW theory, but also argues very cogently indeed that our response is wrong. Some key numbers: Based on the work of respected climate economist Richard Tol (also quoted by Worstall), who is an IPCC panellist, Lomborg says that the cost of the EU's 20% emissions reduction by 2020 will be $250 bn. But it will reduce mean global temperatures by only 0.05°C -- and that's not until 2100! In other words, we will pay an eye-watering sum to make a difference too small to measure.

There is great political pressure in Brussels to up the ante to 30%. This, says Tol, would more than double the cost to $550 -- and increase the effect from 0.05°C to 0.06°C! More generally, Tol argues that every dollar spent on mitigation will deliver benefits in terms of avoiding climate damage of only two cents.

So much for Stern's claim that "the cost of inaction exceeds the cost of mitigation" (a view shared by almost no other serious economist).

Stupidest angle from Cancun

"We found billions to save the banks, so we must be able to find billions to save the planet."

No fella. You got it wrong. We mortgaged our grandchildren to save the banks, and that's why we absolutely cannot afford to waste any more on climate mitigation.

TPA: Millions in Taxes are wasted on Climate Groups

I am regularly impressed by the work being done by the TPA. This month they did not disappoint. While we've all been aware that the EU and the UK government have regularly allocated tax-payer dollars towards Climate-Hysteria groups like the WWF and Friends of the Earth, a report released this month by the TPA illustrates the extent of this pointless and damaging waste.

Find their report here (Adobe Reader required)

The euro: Approaching the end-game?

Just because it's out of the headlines, don't imagine for a moment that the euro crisis has gone away. Several eurozone countries have to re-finance big tranches of debt early in the New Year, and are expected to struggle. I won't write at length about it, but the pieces by Ambrose Evans Pritchard and Roger Bootle in the DT of Dec 13th cover the ground perfectly.

I also loved the piece by Boris Johnson in the same paper, where he berated all those "Conservatives" who urged us to join the euro (and betrayed Maggie Thatcher because of her principled resistance to it). They should (he says) apologise, and he concludes "They know who they are". Whom can he possibly mean? Surely not Ken Clarke?

Ireland is our greatest trading partner?

My opinion on the Euro meltdown, and subsequent bailout, was recently challenged after speaking to a group of visitors to the European Parliament.

A question went something like, "I am as opposed to tax funded bailouts as anyone else but since so much of British trade relies on our commercial relationship with Ireland I feel we'd only be helping ourselves by propping them up". With all due respect to the questioner, this is a bit like a company writing off the debts of a bad customer on the grounds that they can continue to do business.

I'm all for helping our neighbours through tough times, but the argument that a British bailout of Ireland is essential to our own financial success is utter nonsense.

You can find further information, along with supporting statistics at www.statistics.gov.uk.

Dinner with the Home Secretary

On December 1st, I and a few other MEPs had the privilege of dining with Home Secretary the Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP. She had originally been scheduled to address a delegation meeting at 7:30 p.m., but being delayed by snow on Eurostar’s line, she very thoughtfully changed the arrangement to dinner at 8:30. See the photo of Theresa May with Emma McClarkin and me.

Fashion note: Theresa was wearing a fairly conventional pair of tan winter boots.

The previous day we had had Oliver Letwin at our delegation meeting. We certainly seem to be getting more face time and more attention from Conservative Ministers than was the case prior to the last general election. Of course they need to come to Brux to attend European Council meetings, but it’s nice, and much appreciated, that they take time to meet the troops on the ground in Brux.

Theresa was very clearly on top of her brief, and it was good to have the opportunity to hear her. I naturally made a point of raising the issue of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), and the problems of The Derby Two, who suffered such appalling injustices in Riga. If I had been hoping for an instant commitment by the Home Secretary to institute new national safeguards against the EAW by Tuesday week, I was disappointed. Nonetheless she is clearly committed to the current review of extradition procedures, including both the contentious EAW and the one-sided extradition treaty with the USA. Although the review committee will not report until next summer, I have high hopes that it will come up with some decisive recommendations.

An amusing aside on the global warming debate


The Return of the Bumper-Sticker!

"Love Europe -- Hate the EU!". It is a couple of years since I printed my cheerful yellow bumper-sticker, and we'd just about run out, so I thought it was time for a re-print. I now have a couple of thousand sitting in the Market Harborough Office, and should be delighted to send one or two to anyone who's prepared to use it. The address is Ground Floor Suite, Three Crowns Yard, High Street, Market Harborough, Leics LE16 7AF. SAEs appreciated!

While sceptics love it, I've had a couple of cautious comments. One Conservative thought it was a bit harsh. But as Dan Hannan says, "The EU is making us poorer, and less democratic, and less free". It is replacing centuries of (more or less) democratic government in the UK with a remote technocracy harbouring a towering contempt for ordinary people. As Ambrose Evans Pritchard put it, the EU became illegitimate when it rejected the French and Dutch referendum results on the EU Constitution. Hobbling our economy and undermining our liberty? I don't think that "hate" is too strong a word.

Someone else -- a socialist -- said that now the EU had extended to cover half a billion people, it's broadly speaking the same as Europe, so how can you love one and hate the other? The comment shows remarkably woolly thinking, but it's instructive to respond.

Europe is a (not very well defined) geographical area, the Western rump of the Eurasian land-mass. It is also the cradle of some of the world's greatest civilisations -- Greece and Rome -- and has spawned some of the world's greatest empires -- Roman and British, to name but two. It has also been home to some of the greatest artists that the world has ever seen, too numerous to list, though Michelangelo, Leonardo, Dante and Shakespeare spring to mind. And while the Christian faith originated in Palestine, it grew to prominence in Europe. Grounds enough, surely, to love Europe and respect it. As I frequently say -- I love the cooking, the culture and the countryside -- which is a good thing, as I have spent much of my working life there.

But the EU is not Europe. The EU is not primarily a country or group of countries, but a model of governance, and a very bad model too. Like most supranational dreams (think USSR, Yugoslavia?) it has a sell-by date -- and it seems to have reached its sell-by date, and to be hitting the buffers, around now.

It is perfectly possible to love a country and hate the system of governance. Love Burma, hate the Junta. Love Korea (I spend four years there), Hate Kim Jong Il and his clique. Love Cambodia, Hate Pol Pot. Dare I even say, Love Germany, Hate the Nazis?

That's why I thought that "Love Europe, Hate the EU!" deserved a reprint.

Two Continental views on European taxation

From the leader of the Liberal Group Verhofstadt, and former Commissioner Bolkestein

NO 2 AV: The campaign starts here

The Lib-Dems want more wholesale tampering with our constitutional arrangements. A Referendum on AV was part of the price for the Coalition. But that doesn't mean we have to support it, and most Conservatives will vote NO. There are all sorts of technical reasons to oppose the change, but genuine conservatives will instinctively oppose "alteration for the sake of novelty". We're just starting to see the beginning of the referendum campaign on AV. The YES side is well-funded, with a full war-chest. They have the Electoral Reform Society, the Rowntree Trust and so on, in their camp. But the NO campaign is just getting started and needs all the help we can give it. Please visit www.no2av.org and do what you can.


That's it from Strasbourg for this month -- and this year. Straight Talking will be back in 2011.