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Straight Talking - January 2011

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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Just how conservative is the Conservative Party?

After eight months of a Conservative-led government, I have become increasingly concerned about many aspects of policy. I set out those concerns in a blog piece that I offered to ConHome, and also later published on my own blog. The ConHome piece attracted a huge amount of comment, and two particular questions caught my eye.

One, referring to my position on climate change, and the dangers of Chris Huhne’s current “green” energy policies, asked “Isn’t it right for conservatives to care about the environment?” Frankly, I thought it was a stupid question, and showed a profound failure to understand the issue. I was so concerned about it that I wrote a whole new blog item in reply.

Of course it’s right for conservatives (and everyone else) to be concerned about the environment. But it’s not right for a major political party to be swept away by a media scare story, especially one based on disputed science and speculative computer models. Least of all is it right to pursue policies which will damage our economy, bankrupt our grandchildren, undermine our energy security -- and which in any case will have little or no effect on the climate. These policies are both ruinous and futile.

The other comment referred to my concerns over the flat-rate annual levy on non-doms, invented by Labour but left in place by the Coalition. Someone asked whether it was right to be worrying about non-doms when we had so many bigger challenges to face.

Again, he was missing the point entirely. I was objecting to the non-dom tax, not because I want to be nice to non-doms, but because the tax is now shown to be damaging the economy and therefore hurting all of us. Since the tax came in, a whopping 11% of non-doms have left the country. The income and other taxes we have lost because these high earners have left is double the revenue we’ve raised through the new levy. This is another example of the general rule that raising tax rates will not increase revenues pro rata, and as in this case may actually reduce them.

In addition to the straightforward revenue costs, we’re also losing the skills and the effort and quite probably the businesses of those who’ve left.

Along with Labour’s 50% income tax band, this is another policy which as George Osborne knows perfectly well does more harm than good, and threatens the viability of the City of London, yet he’s terrified to say so for fear that Ed Miliband will start back on his “Tories are the party of the rich” riff. Time to get some back-bone, George, and tell it like it is.

Strike a blow against the CFP!

The EU's Common Fisheries policy has been a huge scandal ever since Ted Heath gave away Britain's fisheries to the EU as a make-weight in our 1972 accession negotiations. I've quoted it for years as a typical example of all those EU policies which "No one can justify, no one can defend, but no one can change".

But maybe now you can. Years of criticism by Tory MEPs has achieved almost nothing, and the wicked policy of discards continues, with a million tons of perfectly good fish thrown back dead, in one of the century's greatest environmental crimes.

But a single broadcast by TV foodie Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall could start to turn the tide. I've had a fair number of e-mails on the subject, and already over half a million people (including me) have signed his on-line petition at www.fishfight.net. Please join the fish fight, and strike a blow for common sense.

The EU-India Free Trade Agreement

I recently had a constituent write to me regarding his concerns about the EU-India free trade agreement, and the implications which this will have for the Indian generic medicines industry. India will have to implement Intellectual Property law, and this will prevent local Indian companies from making boot-leg copies of proprietary drugs. My correspondent therefore feared for the health of Indian citizens, if the local prices of these drugs increased substantially.

I am even more concerned by the possible consequences of his recommendation. In effect, he's saying we shouldn't worry if the pharmaceutical industry is denied the opportunity to make a fair return on its huge investment in research. They can create new drugs, but anyone round the world can copy them for free, no royalties paid. If we go down this route, we will simply slash the amount of investment in research, set back medical science, and quite possibly drive major drug companies overseas.

We are told that in future, low-value manufacturing will move to the third world, and that we in the West have to live in a knowledge-based economy, by being at the cutting edge of new developments and research. If we are then to give away the fruits of our research without an adequate return, it is difficult to see how we will survive.

Free trade agreements usually produce some losers, who will protest, but overwhelmingly on balance they create additional wealth and prosperity for all participants.

One other point: if India can afford a space programme (and can afford to buy Jaguar/Land Rover), surely they should be able to pay for medicines for their own citizens? Why should that burden of cost fall largely on the Western pharmaceutical industry?

A Comment on my blog:

From a Mr. Peter Hulme Cross, Jan 13th:

"What is extraordinary is that it is deliberate Government policy to make energy more expensive, to drive industry away, and to condemn tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people to fuel poverty where the cost of heating exceeds 10% of their income".

Exactly. Except it's even worse than that. I've seen estimates that current policies will force as many as a million more families into fuel poverty by the end of the decade.

NFU Dairy Section: New Milk Contracts

On Thursday, Jan 6th, I went to Southfields farm at Somerby, near Melton Mowbray, to meet Carol Puddephatt of the NFU, farmer Mark Barnes, and officials of the NFU East Midlands Dairy Board. They wanted to talk about new EU Commission proposals to regulate milk contracts.

Dairy farmers have had serious problems with milk prices for some years, because of the disproportionate strength of the negotiating position of major supermarkets as against relatively small dairy farmers. I was astonished to find that current contracts place an obligation on dairy farmers to deliver, but no corresponding commitment on prices from the milk processor.

In some ways the Commission proposals are a step forward. They would require contracts to specify price, with some agreed adjustment mechanism based (for example) on input prices. This would work to the benefit of dairy farmers, especially in the current context where diesel and feed costs are escalating. There are some other aspects of the proposal however which need further attention, and I have been discussing these this month with our Agriculture Spokesman Richard Ashworth MEP.

Revisiting to old haunts

I've been invited to speak at a conference of the Malaysian Palm Oil Association in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday January 25th (which also happens to be my birthday -- and Burns Night). The audience is expected to include the Malaysian Plantations Minister.

Between 1987 and 1990 I lived in Malaysia, in the seaside town of Malacca, and ran a textile business there. So naturally I am pleased to be going back to the country, although I expect to be there no more than a day.

The main issue is the attitude of green NGOs (and indeed the leftist press) to the palm oil industry. On the one hand, the NGOs are implacably opposed to the use of fossil fuels, which they believe are implicated in “man-made climate change”. On the other hand, they're also worried about the use of food crops for fuel, and the impact on global food prices and food security; and about the impact of agricultural development on the rain-forests and tropical ecosystems. The NGOs are, in short, conflicted.

I've been invited to speak on the status of the climate change debate in Europe, and about tax-payer-funded environmentalism. We'll see what the media make of that.

A Storm of Synthetic Indignation

Following news reports on January 16th about psychotherapist Leslie Pilkington, who has dealt with cases of homosexuals interested in changing their outlook, I posed a reasonable and modest question on Twitter about the right of homosexuals to seek professional advice on these matters. I was rather taken aback by the instant storm of synthetic indignation from the homosexual rights lobby, the pink press, the Guardian, and the Labour Party. Indeed Labour's hysterical press release suggested that they probably hadn't even read my Tweet. Re-reading the Tweet, I find it difficult to see why anyone should have taken offence, unless they had an axe to grind.

Regular readers of this newsletter will know that I have little time for political correctness, and I refuse to allow particular topics to be placed off-limits for fear of strident lobby groups.

However there is a downside. If a throw-away comment on a peripheral issue is seized on in this way, then at least for a few days the media want to talk to me about nothing else, and the issue is blown out of proportion. I'd rather be talking about Europe and the euro crisis and taxation and energy and climate. But hey, that's politics.

There's also an up-side. Amongst the flood of abusive and ungrammatical e-mails I received (many putting words into my mouth and insisting I'd said things which I hadn't said at all), there was a handful of thoughtful, reasoned and positive comments, encouraging me to keep standing up for common sense in the face of prejudice. One came from a young, gay man who told me that his first reaction to my Tweet had been annoyance, but on reflection, he'd decided I was right. I've posted his e-mail, after anonymising it, here.

And another thing: Before these events, I'd had around 870 followers on Twitter. Overnight, it went to well over a thousand. I guess the new ones are mostly signed up to Stonewall, but never mind.

Social solecism or sartorial suitability? Following the news coverage of my Tweet, I was fending off huge numbers of media bids. It's the old story: if you want to talk about energy security or national sovereignty, no one wants to hear. But mention straight bananas or homosexuality, and the media get excited. I did a short TV interview in the parliament, and only realised afterwards that I'd been wearing a pink tie. I hope no one thinks it was ironic.

Quote of the Month

From Philip Foster, a prominent commentator on climate issues:

"Back in 1995/6 I asked my son, an Oxford undergraduate, what people thought about global warming. 'Well Dad' he said 'It all depends where your research grant comes from'".

Philip refers us to this article by Professor Richard Lindzen, one of the USA's most prominent climate scientists, making the same point.

Recently on the blog:

Hunting: Taking on the antis:

Politics is the language of priorities: Why we should cut out peripheral government spending.

Lots more reasons to believe in Global Warming:

Is the BBC slowly waking up? Possible signs of a return to common sense:

The EU Bill: At best useless; at worst, contemptuous:

Con/Lib-Dem merger? Count me out!

MEPs fail to understand the profit motive

There's a "Written Declaration" in the European parliament at the moment which is summarised in the slogan "Water for all, not for profit: Don't privatise water supplies".

I know I shouldn't spam, but I couldn't resist the temptation to "Reply All": "But it's the profit that ensures the investment and the availability".

Almost instantly, I got a reply from my good friend and colleague London MEP Syed Kamall: “They can have water for free if they leave their buckets out overnight, but if they want it filtered, clean and pumped then state provision would lead to underinvestment. Northern Ireland Water springs to mind!”

Culture Corner

Last night (Jan 18th) I went with my staffer Joe Bono to a concert given as part of an occasional programme in the European Parliamentary Association (EPA), in its rather fine Art Nouveau chateau near the parliament. Ironically the President of the EPA, French MEP Joseph Daul, is also the President of the EPP Political Group, from which we broke away (after a titanic decade-long struggle) last year.

We enjoyed a programme of music by Liszt (it's his 200th anniversary soon, apparently) and Johann Strauss, played by two pianists on one grand piano. They were wonderfully skilful, and the pianoforte is a fine instrument, although in a relatively small room I felt it was a bit too forte and not quite sufficiently piano. Some of the melody and lyricism was lost in the sheer volume and the staccato attack, and I wished I'd sat nearer the back.


That's it for this month from Strasbourg this month. More in February.