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Straight Talking - July 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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Parliament votes down the 30% emissions proposal

The Eickhout report proposed to raise the EU's emissions reduction target from the current 20% by 2020 to 30%. The Conservative MEP delegation takes the view that it would support 30% only if the rest of the world signed up to the same figure -- and that won't happen.

For myself, I oppose 30% absolutely (and 20% as well), as it will have no effect on climate, but will make energy more expensive, and drive energy-intensive businesses offshore to jurisdictions with lower environmental standards. So we could well end up with two tons of CO2 in India or China to save one ton in the UK.

Higher emissions targets will force up energy prices even more quickly than Chris Huhne's current plans will do, driving more households into fuel poverty and putting thousands of pensioners at real risk of harm from winter cold.

The Guardian has tried to talk up a "rift" between Tory MEPs and the Party in Westminster. In fact, we've agreed to differ (and many Conservative back-benchers in Westminster would support our opposition to 30%).

I am delighted to record that the whole report was voted down today (July 5th) by a substantial margin. It's difficult to predict what will come next, but I can't see the Commission coming forward with legislation based on the 30% target after the parliament has decisively rejected it. A job well done.

Meeting the Ministers: ECR Study Days at Windsor

One of the great benefits of events like the recent European Conservatives & Reformists Group Study Days in Windsor is the welcome (and all too rare) opportunity to engage with government ministers on the key issues of the day. We heard from Prime Minister David Cameron; Foreign Secretary William Hague; Europe Minister David Lidington; Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon; Energy Minister Charles Hendry; and especially our former MEP colleague, now MP for High Barnet and Transport Minister, Theresa Villiers.

I got in the first question to David Lidington. Had he seen the report in that day’s Daily Mail that not only Steve Hilton, but now also Oliver Letwin, had decided that Britain would be Better Off Out? Could he confirm that this was Oliver Letwin’s view? David played my question with a straight bat. As a member of the government, he said, Oliver supported the government’s position on the EU. Yes. But that doesn’t quite answer the question.

Richard Benyon was very sound on fisheries — clearly a good man. He knows exactly what needs to be done. Unfortunately neither he, not the government, is in any position to deliver. The Commission’s first draft plan for CFP reform made quite a lot of sense, and reflected public outrage at the practice of discarding good fish (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Big Fish Fight Campaign). But then the vested interests got to work, and each successive policy redraft has edged it back towards the status quo. Sadly, the EU doesn’t do reform.

Energy Minister Charles Hendry was, I think, quite taken aback by the strength of opposition in the ECR group to green policies generally and to the EU’s proposed 30% emissions reduction in particular. I took the opportunity to set out, very succinctly, the case against 30%, and the huge damage that it would do to jobs, investment and competitiveness, as well as to the pensioners driven into fuel poverty and risking death from cold. I admit that even I was surprised by the warmth of the ovation in the room which greeted my intervention. The Poles, of course (who form the second largest national delegation in the ECR) are highly dependent on coal, and efforts to curb CO2 emissions will represent a serious asymmetric shock for Poland, as their own Commissioner has already made clear.

Theresa Villiers gave us a comprehensive review of government transport policy. I raised the question of High Speed Rail, on which I’m an agnostic — I can see both sides of the argument. Theresa made a good case for the economic benefits of major transport infrastructure projects, citing two examples — Canary Wharf in London, and Lille in France (on the Eurostar line), where in both cases new transport links supported very rapid economic growth, with new investment and jobs.

The growth of electric cars was discussed, and Theresa cited the benefit of running costs as low as one to three pence per mile. But I suspect that if and when the growth of electric vehicles starts to make a serious dent in George Osborne’s fuel duty revenues, he’ll find new ways to tax the electric motorist.

Emma McClarkin raised the important and vexed issue of the rolling stock order that went to Siemens in Germany, not to Bombardier in Derby (I had already written to Theresa on the issue). Theresa well understood the concern, and the local anger in Derby, but said that the government after much thought and careful analysis had come to the conclusion that under EU procurement rules, they had no option but to choose Siemens. This leaves outstanding the question why similar French and German orders always seem to go to national suppliers.

We were also addressed by Andrew Feldman, Co-Chairman of the Party. His remarks were of interest to British members, but perhaps failed to engage with the concerns of his wider audience. Nevertheless, the whole event was rated a great success, and I was glad to be there.

A question for Bill Newton Dunn

In the Daily Telegraph of June 20th (pB2), distinguished economist and commentator Roger Bootle posed a question about the euro. He was asking if those who ten years ago were urging us to join the single currency had seen the error of their ways. Naturally I thought immediately of Bill Newton Dunn MEP, one of the most egregious euro-enthusiasts in the East Midlands.

Roger Bootle wrote as follows:

Supposedly, we were about to miss the boat/train/plane and had to jump aboard before it was too late. So do we now hear an acknowledgement from those doyens of the British establishment who were so desperate to take us into the euro, that on the biggest economic issue of our generation they were profoundly wrong? Are their éminences, grises and otherwise, still subscribers to the "trains and boats and planes" school of economic thought? Or have they finally read some economics? Have they now recognised that all the political will in the world cannot enable you to reach the moon with a pea shooter?

So how about it, Bill? An expression of contrition? An apology? Or are you still trying to hit the moon with your pea-shooter?

Common sense on Independence Day

On July 4th in Straz, a number of us, MEPs and staffers, went to a hamburger restaurant to celebrate Independence Day. A colleague brought along the only American in the group, a school-girl intern called Molly.

She was a Republican and a Christian, and I was interested to know if she shared the same views as the American "religious right" on a range of issues. She assured me she was OK with science and evolution.

"But you don't buy all this climate change stuff?" I asked. Her reply was unequivocal: "I'm not that stupid!"

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, as the Good Book says. Molly's self-confidence and good sense were refreshing. There is hope for us yet.

The benefits of hydrogen power

A colleague recently received the following from a constituent:

Veronica and I were in London a few weeks ago and saw a hydrogen powered bus. All very environmentally friendly -- no nasty carbon dioxide, just plain water as the exhaust gas. What a great idea! It's just a shame that water vapour is a bigger contributor to the green­house effect than carbon dioxide!!!!!!

Of course everyone knows that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but few people seem to know that as the man says, the most important greenhouse gas is water vapour. And there's absolutely nothing we can do about water vapour, as long as the wind keeps blowing over the ocean.

James Delingpole's question to Greg Barker

After a speech to Conservative Future in the Commons on Climate Change by Greg Barker MP, who is the Minister for Climate Change, Telegraph blogger James Delingpole spoke up:

"I asked him what it was that first drew him to the Conservative party. Was it because he’d always nurtured a burning desire to drive up inflation? Or to increase fuel bills? Or to transfer money from the poor to the pockets of rich landowners like Earl Spencer and Sir Reginald Sheffield Bt? Or to destroy the British economy? Or to despoil the British countryside?"

Nice one James. Point well made.

Here's the link.

The most Europhile Prime Minister since Edward Heath?

I have several times written that this Conservative-led Coalition is transferring powers to Brussels faster than the previous Labour administration did before it. New EU Financial supervision, a new EU diplomatic service (EEAS), the EU investigation Order, contributions to doomed euro-bail-out schemes.

On several occasions, Conservative MEPs have been whipped to support these measures. We were whipped to support the EEAS. Then we were whipped to support the new enhanced observer status for the EU at the UN, which is clearly a step on the road to full recognition and an EU seat on the UN Security Council -- replacing the UK and France. Needless to say, I have always defied the whip and voted against in these circumstances.

On the enhanced status of the EU at the UN, I was moved to write to Europe Minister David Lidington, asking for clarification of HMG's position. I received a very courteous reply from Henry Bellingham MP; Minister for Africa, the UN, Overseas Territories and Conflict Issues. He reassuringly explained that yes, HMG had supported the move, but that I shouldn't worry because really it made little difference. "It does not affect the rights or status of the EU in any other UN body" (The General Assembly doesn't really matter, then?) and "The UK's position in the UN Security Council is not affected." For now.

I replied to Mr. Bellingham as follows:

Mr. Henry Bellingham MP,

Minister for Africa, the UN, Overseas Territories and Conflict Issues

Dear Henry,

The European Union in the United Nations

Many thanks for your letter of May 31st in response to my question regarding British government support for the newly enhanced status of the European Union in the United Nations Organisation.

I was glad of all your reassurances that the implications of the move are limited and that in your view they will have little effect, and will not impinge on UK influence or sovereignty. But you will I hope forgive me for dissenting when I say that this is all part of a steady process to enhance the powers of the EU, which can only diminish the powers and sovereignty of the member states, and especially of the UK. You seem to be saying "Don't worry -- the salami slices are really cut quite thin".

I was particularly struck by your reference, apparently without any sense of irony, to "the vital rôle of the EU in promoting development and prosperity". Prosperity? As my good friend Dan Hannan so succinctly puts it, "The EU is making us poorer, and less democratic and less free". Development? Surely you must be aware that one of the greatest restraints to the development of poor countries continues to be the iniquitous and protectionist Common Agricultural Policy? Compared to the damage done in the third world by the CAP, the EU's foreign aid and development programmes are little more than a fig leaf.

On June 4th in the Daily Telegraph, Peter Oborne asked "Is Cameron the most Europhile Prime Minister since Edward Heath?" Surely it is this casual way in which we transfer new powers and competences to Brussels, and then seek to explain our actions with civil service boiler-plate justifications, that gives this impression.

I have been waiting fifteen years for a government prepared to take a stand against European integration, and I am still waiting.

Best regards, Roger.

THE ENDGAME: the euro's desperate fight for survival

This is the title of a forthcoming book by Johan Van Overtveldt, Director of a Belgian economic think-tank VKW Metana, and has written for a range of prestigious publications including the Wall Street Journal. On June 15th he addressed a round-table discussion organised by Open Europe, alongside their Director Mats Persson, and my ECR colleague Derk Jan Eppink MEP.

His take on the euro was simple. EU leaders are unwilling to bite the bullet, as all the options are so unpalatable. So they let matters slip from bad to worse. If they carry on as they are, Greek debt will increase, leading to a catastrophic and disorderly collapse. If they seek to resolve the Greek debt crisis by what Mr. van Overtveldt calls "internal devaluation" -- grinding internal deflation, massive salary cuts -- that will force Greece into serious recession, and decimate tax revenues, so the disaster will be the same. And internal inflation will not be politically deliverable in a democracy. As I write, there is blood on the streets of Athens.

Even on-going handouts from Brussels and Frankfurt will only prolong the evil day. They will leave Greece with an unsustainable interest rate and exchange rate.

The only solution is for Greece to leave the euro, restructure its debt -- or default entirely -- and recover competitiveness at a lower exchange rate. This will also be a chaotic and painful process -- for all of the eurozone, not just for Greece. Banks across Europe will be damaged, including the ECB. But it's the only long-term solution.

Mats Persson made some similar points.

You don't solve a debt crisis with more debt. Austerity measures strangle growth. Brussels and Frankfurt have so far been absurdly optimistic -- they expected Greece to be back into international debt markets by 2012, a prospect that now seems ludicrous. Bail-outs don't address the fundamental competitiveness problem. And bail-outs are politically divisive. Voters in richer countries are getting restive, and will go on strike.

The euro break-up cannot be long delayed. And I can't wait to read Mr. Van Overtveldt's book.

Anne Robinson in hot water

Anne Robinson, the controversial presenter of The Weakest Link, is in trouble again. Recording an episode of the show, she was confronted with a contestant who was also a vicar, and wearing (with a dog collar) a shirt with tasteful but bright stripes in strong pastel colours. Careless of political correctness, Ann asked the vicar “Is that a gay shirt?” Needless to say, the BBC cut the phrase from the broadcast show, but word got out, and the homosexual lobby lambasted Ann for “inappropriate use of the word gay”. I seem to remember that Jeremy Clarkson got a similar earful for describing a car as “gay”.

Is this surreal, or what?

When I was young, many years ago, “gay” was one of the most charming words in the English language. It meant happy, care-free, and joyful. It reminded me of the line “Youth on the prow and pleasure at the helm”, which was the title of a Victorian painting.

This was the word which was hi-jacked -- misappropriated -- by what we now have to call the “gay community”, so that it is impossible to use the word in its original sense without conjuring up unwanted associations. In my schooldays I dated a girl called Gaye. I haven’t heard from her for half a century, but I daresay she’s changed her name by Deed Poll. The most recent use of “gay” in its original sense that I can remember is a song by the Seekers, dating from the Sixties: "I wandered the streets and the gay crowded places...".

And yet we see the homosexual lobby now accusing Anne Robinson of using the word “inappropriately”, for heavens sake! Haven’t they been doing that for decades? Images of pots and kettles spring to mind.

And not just pots and kettles. Images also of George Orwell, and 1984, and Newspeak. Political correctness has reached the point where the great progressive consensus, including but not limited to the BBC and the homosexual lobby, are seeking to deny us even the words, or the use of words, which would enable us to think subversive thoughts. So Anne Robinson and Jeremy Clarkson may not need me to leap to their defence, but I salute them for refusing to be intimidated. (Find the lyrics here)


It is summer recess shortly, so there won't be a newsletter in August, but I will be back again, as usual in September. Until then, please check out my blog, and this website for regular updates.