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Straight Talking - September 2012

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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Draghi's Bazooka?

Or Draghi's pea-shooter?

ECB President Mario Draghi, desperate to find some compromise between German bail-out fatigue and Greek austerity fatigue, has finally come up with his “Big Bazooka”. He's promised to do “all that it takes”, and to spend “unlimited funds” buying the debt of southern European countries. He prefaced his remarks with “In appropriate circumstances”, which rather spoiled the effect.

And in deference to German sensibilities, he promised to “sanitise” the money. This would not be printing money (like the Weimar Republic). It wouldn't be Quantitative Easing (that wicked Anglo-Saxon ploy). Oh No. Draghi would “sanitise” the transaction, by using only money taken from somewhere else, to ensure that the balance sheet stayed balanced.

Only one problem. Just where does Signor Draghi have access to “unlimited funds”, which he can shift from one trouser pocket into the other? And how do the people from whom he'll take the money -- presumably the Germans -- feel about it?

This isn't a solution. The German Constitutional Court has failed to condemn the ESM. But we still wait for Spain and other debtors to agree to give up national democratic control of their budgets. Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy has unsurprisingly expressed doubts. And the German Bundestag has to approve the spending.

Even if all that works, it will only buy time. It will do nothing to redress the vast and growing imbalances in competitiveness in the eurozone. It will not price Greece and Spain back into international markets. It will not put food on the table in Athens. It may relieve the symptoms for a few months, but it doesn't address the cause. And the cause is the €uro itself. It's a bankruptcy machine.

Another Referendum Promise?

Cameron is flying a kite. There have been discreet suggestions that at the Tory Conference he may offer some kind of EU referendum, to pacify his sceptics. But of course we all remember his mendacious "Cast-Iron Guarantee", so we won't be taken in next time.

I suspect he plans some kind of nugatory renegotiation. He’ll come back with some trivial concessions (as Harold Wilson did in 1975) and offer a referendum on them. But we can tell him now: we won’t be taken in again, so he needn’t bother.

Party Conference, Birmingham, Sept 21st/22nd

Our Party Conference is only days away. The Party is in good fettle. We are the third Party in the opinion polls, ahead of the Lib-Dems. We’ll be announcing new members joining us both from the Conservatives and from other parties.

We’ll also be launching our new UKIP energy policy booklet, just at the time when even the Coalition (or parts of it) are starting to get cold feet about the wind farm scam. Perfect timing. A taster: “Climate Change is so last century”.

Wind turbines don’t cut emissions

It’s counter-intuitive, but true: wind farms don’t cut emissions. I’ve said it before, but I make no apology for repeating it, because it’s the most important message we need to get across on wind power.

The industry, of course, simply looks at the output from a turbine, calculates what emissions would be involved generating the same output from gas or coal, and claims that as the emissions saving. They totally ignore the conventional back-up, usually gas, which wind power absolutely requires to manage intermittency.

Because the conventional back-up is held on “spinning reserve” for instant access when the wind drops, and because the back-up itself runs intermittently to complement the vagaries of wind, it is run very inefficiently. (And the capital cost of wind plus back-up is up to ten times the cost of gas alone). Inefficient running means that the overall system emissions savings, wind plus gas, are somewhere between not-very-much and zero.

The primary driver behind the development of wind power (and Brussels’ Renewables Directive) is the obsession with reducing emissions. Yet wind fails in its primary purpose. It is all cost, no benefit. It is sheer green posturing and gesture politics, which is undermining British economic competitiveness. It is folly writ large.

Now our net EU contribution tops £10 billion!

There was I thinking that our net budget contribution to the EU was around £7 billion -- and bad enough at that, you might say. But the Office for National Statistics published its Pink Book on July 31st, showing that our net contribution is a whopping £10.78 billion, and our gross contribution just shy of £20 billion. These are shocking and unaffordable figures, and are yet another reason why we’d be Better Off Out.

Corby needs a single-minded MP

I’ve recently had the pleasure of getting to know Margot Parker, who is the UKIP candidate for the Corby by-election to be held (probably) in November. She is a very practical and realistic lady, local to Corby, who is especially passionate about employment issues in the town. But she also has extensive international business experience, some of it in Asia where I spent a good part of my career. (I have noted elsewhere that Eurosceptics are the real internationalists -- both Margot and I are examples).

I have been struck by the enthusiastic support in Corby from UKIP members up and down the country -- including a canvasser who came up from the Isle of Wight. Well done them. I’m looking forward to doing more door-knocking in Corby myself.

Given Margot’s background, I was rather disappointed to get an unsolicited e-mail from a Corby voter saying “I also understand that your candidate is an EU lobbyist, I might as well vote Lib Dem”.

Margot has indeed lobbied in Brussels (unpaid, by the way) for the UK Sales Promotion industry. But lobbying in Brussels is a far cry from lobbying for Brussels! Like it or not (and I don’t like it), most of the stultifying red tape and regulation that’s dragging down British industry comes from Brussels. So British lobbyists, often working with British MEPs, are struggling to oppose the worst of it and to limit the damage -- and to the extent that they succeed, that’s good for all of us, including my Corby constituent.

Margot has been fighting (as I have) to oppose the nonsense from Brussels, and is utterly committed (as I am) to getting Britain out of the EU. And like me, she's opposed to wind farm development in the region. She’s an ideal UKIP candidate.

Meantime the Tories have named Chris Emmett as their by-election candidate. This is a logical choice for them: a well-known and (fairly) local candidate. They’d have been deservedly decimated if they’d sent up another dilettante like Louise Mensch from Islington or Saint John’s Wood (though they may well be decimated anyway).

I’ve known Chris for a long time, and I have a lot of time for her. She’s pretty sound on the issues. Indeed the Tory decision to adopt a eurosceptic candidate is probably a back-handed recognition of the likely impact of UKIP in Corby. And Chris is a thoroughly nice person. Her problem is that she’s a Conservative, and the Conservative Party is wrong on too many issues, and losing the plot on too many fronts, especially on Europe and on energy, but on other issues besides. If elected, Chris would just be one more Conservative MP torn between personal principles and Party policy. There are too many Tory MPs having to bite their tongues as the leadership pursues perverse policies, and the handful who speak out -- like Douglas Carswell, David Davies and Brian Binley -- have given up all hope of advancement.

No. Corby needs a single-minded MP, untrammelled by divided loyalties. An MP who will speak up boldly for Corby, for Northamptonshire and for Britain. I’ll be proud to campaign for Margot Parker.

The misuse of the apostrophe

Many of us have lamented the decline in English punctuation, and the “green-grocer’s apostrophe”, as in “TOMATO’S”. In August I visited the excellent equestrian establishment, “Ride Away”, near York, and observed a wonderful contrast -- two otherwise similar notices, beautifully and carefully printed. One had an apostrophe where it should not have had one. The other lacked an apostrophe that it needed.

One said “Numnah’s”, where a simple plural was intended. (A numnah is a species of saddle-cloth). The other said “This months offers”, where “Month’s” should have had an apostrophe, but didn’t. This may seem to be a trivial and pedantic complaint. But the whole point of punctuation is to make the written word clearer and more comprehensible. If instead of being used correctly, punctuation marks are used randomly, as now seems to be the case, they serve no purpose at all. Worse, for those of us with some residual recollection of what they are supposed to mean, misplaced apostrophes confuse.

My good friend the Reverend Peter Mullen, Chaplain to the Freedom Association, has written a piece on the death of the English language, and the funeral which he proposes to conduct for it. He has a point.

This turkey’s voting for Christmas!

One of the nice things about reaching the state retirement age is that you stop paying National Insurance. It’s a useful bonus. And it’s based on the old fiction that NI is an insurance premium covering (inter alia) your pension. If you can draw your pension, where’s the logic of keep paying the premiums?

But the Free Enterprise Group of MPs (mostly fairly sound on economic/ fiscal issues) have pointed out, quite rightly, that NI is not insurance, but simply a tax. If older people are still in work (as many are), what’s the point of giving them a special tax holiday that they probably don't need -- especially if they’ve got both a salary and a pension?

Their logic is impeccable, and I can’t find fault with it -- even though their plan to maintain NI for all earners regardless of age would cost me a fair bit. But I can console myself with the thought that by the time the idea gets onto the statute book (if it ever does), I’ll probably be retired.

Louise Bagshawe/Mensch

I wrote about the departure of Corby MP Louise Bagshawe/Mensch in August, on my blog.

Someone commented that I should not let personal dislike affect political judgement. Fair comment, but I don’t think I did. I replied: “This is not a party-political point. I was disenchanted with Louise long before I joined UKIP (I’ve talked to Conservatives on the ground in Corby, who were deeply disappointed with her). She has let down her party and her constituents. The Tories will lose the seat because (A) It was marginal to start with; (B) The Tories are down in the polls; (3) Voters hate unnecessary by-elections, and punish parties who cause them”.

What price Parish Councillors now?

We all know about the problems of paying for maintenance and repair of the thousands of churches that embellish our green and pleasant land. But the latest twist in the tale is so preposterous that I had to check the date. It wasn’t April 1st.

The Charities Commission is drawing the attention of Parish Councillors (PCs) to an almost-forgotten law dating back -- believe it or not -- to Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540. That’s 472 years ago. Apparently the owners of houses now built on former monastic grounds have an obligation to finance the repairs and maintenance of the adjacent church building. The Charities Commission wants Parish Councillors to impose these costs on their neighbours (and perhaps also on themselves), failing which (says the Charities Commission) the PCs themselves become liable for the costs. Find it here.

This is simply outrageous. You cannot dig up a centuries-old law to impose huge financial penalties on local residents who may have no interest in the Church at all. You might as well reintroduce tithing.

Parish Cllrs in any case have a fairly thankless task. Interminable committee work for little or no reward. It is already difficult to find people who are prepared to serve. If this threat goes forward, and PCs risk facing charges of many thousands of pounds, they will simply resign and go away, and who can blame them? And no one will be queuing up to take their places.

So how do we maintain these beautiful and historic buildings? The first call is on the Church and the congregations -- it seems reasonable that those who use premises should support them financially. But we know that this is increasingly difficult to deliver, with the Church of England in terminal decline and congregations shrinking by the week. What are the alternatives? Can the Church seek local sponsorship? The ultimate backstop, of course, is the tax-payer. If we want to maintain these historical heritage buildings (and I hope we do) then in the end we must pay for them, and not just pile costs on a handful of local properties on the basis of historical accident.

But I doubt if the Treasury will give any blanket guarantee. We shall have the agonising task of choosing which of our historic churches we can afford to retain.

Declaration of interests: So far as I know, my house is not on former monastic land. At least I hope not!

E-Petition Against Wind Farms

There’s a Number 10 petition against wind farms. I doubt if it will change the world, but I certainly felt better for signing it. Find it on the link above.

BBC Radio Five Live: The Stephen Nolan Show

I’d been invited several times to talk on specific issues on the Stephen Nolan Show (which is great, apart from the need to stay up late!). They seemed to like what they were getting, because they asked me back to do the Saturday midnight papers review, which lasts on-and-off for an hour. I’ve now done several, and it seems to be getting to be a regular thing.

There are still people out there who believe (or affect to believe) that UKIP is a single-issue party consisting mainly of mavericks and eccentrics. It’s therefore extremely valuable to be introduced regularly as a UKIP MEP, and to have the opportunity to discuss a range of issues in a reasonable and measured way, on national radio. This is the kind of activity that normalises and legitimises UKIP as a responsible choice for voters who are fed up with the old parties.

I’m not quite sure who listens to Five Live between midnight and one o’clock. But it should push up the UKIP vote amongst insomniacs.

Grey Panthers?

People do opinion polls on the oddest things. Now there’s a poll about how older people like to be described. Apparently they (or should I say “we”) hate the terms “elderly”, or “OAP”, or “pensioner” -- or even “senior citizen”. Bizarrely, they want to be called “Grey Panthers”.

I’ve spent a lifetime being counter-consensual, so you may not be surprised to hear that as a pensioner (I’m in receipt of the state Old Age Pension), I think that “Senior Citizen” is a clumsy euphemism. I am the proud holder of an Elderly Person’s Railcard, and when buying a ticket I call it just that -- “Here’s my Elderly Person’s Railcard”. What’s wrong with “elderly”? Let’s get back to plain English.

And as for “Grey Panthers” -- I’d be appalled and vaguely embarrassed if anyone called me a Grey Panther. Though I do drive a Black Jaguar.

Emerging Countries?

Today in the hemicycle I heard a story of an Asian Speaker at a Conference, who said he came from an emerging country. And he extended his sympathies to Europeans, who he said came from submerging countries. Ouch.


That's it from Straz for the July session. Please remember to visit this website, my blog at http://rogerhelmermep.wordpress.com, and follow me on Twitter: @RogerHelmerMEP