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Straight Talking - June 2011

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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June 14th: The Book Launch!

My new book will be launched in London on Tuesday June 14th. The title (like the identity of Ryan Giggs) is a closely guarded secret. But like Ryan Giggs, it has already been leaked on the internet (hint: check amazon.co.uk).

It will be 120 pages of a potent pot-pourri of politics and polemic, enlivened by irony, and amusing anecdote, personal perspective and hopefully some humour. Plus pictures. And it deals with some major events in my odyssey through the corridors of Brussels over the last five years or so.

At this point I should thank my friend and former running-mate Rupert Matthews, and his company Bretwalda Books, who have done the boring stuff -- editing, publishing, and making the format Kindle-compatible (unlike me, the book should be up to speed with the latest technology).

Agents and Organising Secretaries please note: expect a box of (free) copies to arrive at constituency offices throughout the East Midlands region, in the next couple of weeks, to dispose of as you will -- but hopefully not just as ballast in a store-cupboard.

The launch takes place on Tuesday 14th June, 11:30 for 12:00, at the former Conservative Central Office in Smith Square. It will be under those very windows where Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit acknowledged the adulation of victorious crowds, which now -- bitter irony -- is the headquarters of the occupying power, otherwise known as the London Office of the European parliament. Invitations have been sent out, but if you haven't got one and you're passing, there should be room for more.

MEPs call for TENFOLD increase in EU budget

Source: Daily Express

The EU has no fewer than two temporary committees set up to consider the causes of the economic crisis. The first, the Policy Challenges Committee, is called SURE for short (I'm not sure why). The other is called by the catchy abbreviation CRIS (for Crisis).

Both have endorsed the European parliament's proposal for a 5% increase in the EU seven-year budget perspective (the multi-annual financial framework), plus new Europe-wide taxes, plus a financial transaction tax (effectively, a tax on London), and an end to the British rebate. Not a nice package.

I'm on neither of these Committees, but on May 30th I was called to stand in for an absent colleague, Vicky Ford (Eastern Region), who was unable to attend and vote.

Naturally, we voted against. Naturally, we lost. But at least we denied them unanimity. We will vote again this week in Strasbourg, where we'll lose again, and it will be up to the Council and the member-states to stop the nonsense. Hague & Lidington: please note.

But there was one priceless proposal which is scarcely credible, so I'll quote it word-for-word. Compromise para 57: "believes therefore that the EU budget needs to be raised to a level between 5 and 10% of the Union's GDP". Yep. 5 to 10%.

It's currently around 1%, and limited by Treaty to no more than 1.24%. So the proposal is not for a 5% increase, but for a 400 to 900% increase. In the middle of a financial and economic crisis, and tasked with finding a way forward, these MEPs are demanding an eye-watering and totally indefensible increase in taxes and spending.

It was so lunatic, so hopelessly unrealistic, that I could hardly believe that sane politicians would vote for it. But you should never underestimate the folly of Brussels: it went through with a clear majority. In fact the whole package was approved 31 to 9, with two abstentions.

Yet there is a curious logic. In 1977, 34 years ago, the EU commissioned the MacDougall report, on the prospects for a single currency. The report indicated that to sustain a currency union, to make the necessary fiscal transfers from rich to poorer areas (from Germany to Greece, for example), the EU would need from 5 to 7% of GDP.

In monetary terms, MacDougall was probably right. But in an EU that is already hopelessly over-taxed, it is preposterous to propose raising massive new taxes merely to sustain a currency that nobody loves, and many citizens don't want at all.

Welcome to David Campbell-Bannerman

As I reported recently on my blog, David Campbell Bannerman MEP has left the EFD group and joined the Conservative Party and the ECR group. We are delighted to welcome back a former Conservative, who has served as a UKIP MEP since 2009.

He also takes the ECR group one member ahead of the Greens, so we are now fourth, not fourth equal, in the pecking order.

Newt Gingrich Changes his mind on climate

As the Good Book says, "There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth". According to the Climate Depot website, Newt has said:

"Climate change is the newest excuse to take control of lives and you want a new bureaucracy to run our lives on behalf of the newest thing. But remember, in the mid-1970's there was a cover of Newsweek and Time that says we're in the age of a brand new glacial period and they had a cover of the Earth covered in ice. Now many of those scientists are still alive and they were absolutely convinced".

A few days in Taiwan

In May, during a green week, I had the opportunity to go, with the parliament's Friends of Taiwan Group, to Taipei and Tainan. I was able to meet the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the parliament, and the leader of the main opposition party, the Progressive Democrats, who is also the second candidate in the forthcoming Presidential Election.

Taiwan is a remarkable country, one of the Asian Tigers, and has a wide range of high-tech industries. Yet it exists in the shadow of an anomalous relationship with China PRC, each claiming to be the legitimate Chinese nation. PRC uses its huge diplomatic clout to exclude Taiwan as far as possible from international forums, and issues dire threats of military action should Taiwan presume to declare independence.

But the fact is that Taiwan is de facto an independent democratic country, whether PRC likes it or not. It seems to me that our approach should be to say to the two Chinas: "You can debate the constitutional status of Taiwan and PRC between yourselves. But meantime we as a third party see that Taiwan is, in effect, a separate country, and we shall deal with it accordingly".

I've written about my Taiwan visit twice on my blog, so I won't repeat all that here. But you might like to see a selection of photos.

Poor Vince Cable -- wrong even when he's right

Over the last eighteen months, Vince Cable, as perceived by the media and the public, seems to have changed from a wise old owl into a headless chicken. He has no idea of collective responsibility in the Cabinet. He's happy to fire off like a loose cannon at any issue that occurs to him, and to take pot-shots at his Cabinet colleagues. Indeed eyebrows have been raised because he never seems to be reprimanded. Cameron seems to think that keeping the Lib-Dems on-side is worth overlooking almost any indiscretion.

Vince, in short, seems to be the licensed joker, the Cabinet's Launcelot Gobbo. Until now.

Vince chose to remark that Greece faced restructuring of its debt. And suddenly the door of Number Ten swung open and rolled out a field-gun.

I haven't written much recently about the euro -- not because there's little to say, but because it's already covered so well in the media. But for what it's worth, I agree with the emerging consensus that Greece will in fact have to default, or restructure, or "re-profile its debt", to use latest euphemism. (Indeed I took this view long before it became the consensus). Greece is on a debt trajectory that will never allow it to repay, and each new bail-out simply digs it deeper into the hole.

This view has now become so widely held that it's difficult to find anyone, save a few diehard bureaucrats in Brussels and Frankfurt, who would disagree.

So the bitter irony is that Vince, having got away with murder (metaphorically) for months, has now been slapped down for simply saying what everyone knows (like announcing the name of Ryan Giggs). Admittedly it's a bit beyond his brief, but it's quite unexceptional. Poor old Vince. It's just not fair. But then that's politics.

Quote of the Month:

“Greece needs creditors to take a haircut of 40 percent”

-- Peter Bofinger, leading German economist and one of the five members of the German Council of Economic Experts, May 27th 2011

Nuclear Power and organic cucumbers

I recently received by e-mail a comment from a constituent: "Deaths in Germany from organic cucumbers: Ten. Deaths in Germany from nuclear power: Nil".

This was before we heard that Spanish organic cucumbers are now not thought to have been the cause of the German e-coli outbreak (and that the death toll has sadly risen beyond ten). But the point stands: e-coli is a greater risk than nuclear power.

And see my blog on organic cucumbers.

On the blog recently:

'We think we're reducing emissions with our green policies - but we're not'

'Stop the social engineering in Education!'

'The lunacy of solar power'

'Conservatives abroad in Brussels'

'Former staffer rains on EU's parade'

'A UKIP defection raises the profile of the ECR group'

Stirring up a hornets' nest

After a dozen years in politics, you'd think I might have learned to tip-toe around sensitive subjects, and not put my foot in it. But I'm afraid I still don't always get it right.

Recently I was concerned that Ken Clarke had been given a hard time by the press -- and indeed by the Party -- for comments about rape that seemed to me perfectly fair and common-sense. So I wrote a piece about it on my blog. And I was fairly appalled by the media reaction.

We saw lurid headlines; sensationalised coverage; decontextualised quotations; and downright misreporting. The Daily Mirror and some other papers seemed to imply that I was blaming all rape victims for being victims. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let's be clear: in all serious crimes against the person -- rape, murder, mugging, assault -- the blame and guilt attach solely to the assailant, who should be pursued with the full rigour of the law. He (it usually is "he") should be apprehended, convicted and sentenced.

I had made some fairly moderate observations on my blog about the desirability of behaving with reasonable care, and about being responsible for our actions. These observations were taken out of context and blown out of all proportion by the press until they were practically libellous.

I believe that most victims of crimes against the person have indeed behaved responsibly, and have not put themselves at unnecessary risk, and therefore clearly have no responsibility whatever for their misadventure. But a cursory reading of the press shows that this is not always the case.

Let me give you an example of the kind of thing I'm talking about: if I chose to walk in Central Park, New York, at 2:00 a.m., and got mugged, the blame and guilt would attach to the mugger, who should be convicted and sentenced. But I should certainly feel some measure of personal responsibility for having recklessly put myself in a risky situation. But if I were mugged at noon in Oxford Street, I should feel no such sense of responsibility, because I should not consider that I had put myself at risk.

I can quite understand that the coverage in the Daily Mirror might well have caused general offence -- it certainly offended me. And of course I very much regret any embarrassment or concern which the adverse coverage may have caused to colleagues, and to Conservatives members and activists in the region.

I'm not afraid of controversy, but if I'm going to have a stand-up, knock-down row about something, I'd rather it were about one of my core issues like the EU, or climate change. So I suppose I'd better just rap myself over the knuckles and resolve to be more careful in future.

Poetry Corner

I recently picked up a copy of the Easton Press edition of Hiawatha, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807/1882). This long narrative poem was written in 1855, and is said to be loosely based on legends and folk-tales of the Ojibwe people. This edition is lavishly illustrated by Harrison Fisher.

I suppose everyone has heard of Hiawatha. Many people can quote a few lines (By the shores of Gitche Gumee/By the shining Big-Sea-Water/Stood the wigwam of Nokomis…). But I suspect that relatively few have read the whole poem, which is a pity, because it takes only a couple of hours, and they are a couple of hours well-spent.

The poem has a compelling and insistent rhythm, and tells a story which is both uplifting and tragic, by turns. On the downside, it could be criticised for presenting an over-romanticised picture of the Nineteenth Century concept of “The Noble Savage”. And the conclusion, when Hiawatha welcomes the first European Christian missionary to arrive on his shores, seems a little improbable.

There are around seventy of Fisher’s illustrations in the book, and they help the narrative along. It was only as I got towards the end that I noticed, under the artist’s discreet signature, a date. It was 1906. After a little checking, I find that he was a successful American magazine illustrator, with a special penchant for idealised pretty girls -- which is perhaps why he does so well with Minnehaha.

Indeed he is credited with creating the model of American beauty in the early 20th Century -- a sort of early Vargas. But he has risen above the status of mere illustrator in his Hiawatha pictures, and created something of real value. The 1906 date, however, does rather tend to feed my prejudice that little art (or music or literature of architecture) of real merit was produced after about 1920.

And Dan Hannan on Kipling: While we're talking poetry, let me recommend Dan Hannan's piece "Rudyard Kipling on the EU bailouts". Kipling was clearly a man ahead of his time.


That's all from Strasbourg for June, but please check out my blog, and this website for regular updates.
And follow me on Twitter: @RogerHelmerMEP