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Straight Talking - November 2003

Roger Helmer's electronic newsletter from Brussels

Please feel free to distribute this newsletter or to quote from it. If you want to go onto the e-mail list please click here.

The day peace broke out

There has been a miraculous transformation in the Conservative Party. It's like a train coming out of a dark tunnel into broad daylight. It really looks as though ten years of factionalism and back-stabbing are over, and we can start to attack this wretched Labour government, instead of attacking each other.

I was sorry to see IDS go. I was a keen supporter of Iain. I worked hard to secure his election as leader in 2001, and to support him in the job. Only days before the vote of confidence, Chris and I were standing shoulder to shoulder with Iain and Betsy in Loughborough and Leicester.

Iain has great achievements to his credit. He put the lid on the euro-squabbling. He got us level with Labour in the polls. He prepared an exciting new policy programme, which we expect the new leadership to take forward. But the sad fact is that Iain failed to catch the imagination either of the Westminster party, or of the wider public, in quite the way we had hoped.

So I am astonished, and delighted, that the party seems to have rallied round one strong candidate, and spared us the trauma of a protracted and divisive leadership campaign. I shall be giving Michael Howard my full support, as I know Iain would want us to do, and I feel more optimistic about our prospects as a Party than I have for years.


Quote of the Month

Tom Paine, eighteenth century firebrand, revolutionary and political philosopher: "A Constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government and government has no right to make itself a party in any debate respecting the principles or modes of forming, or of changing, constitutions".

Could somebody tell Tony Blair, please? And Valery Giscard d'Estaing?


The EU Constitution: a threat to Queen and Country

There have recently been press stories suggesting concern at the Palace over the Queen's future status under the proposed EU Constitution. Predictably, this has been dismissed as "a euro-sceptic scare story" by the integrationists.

We should of course be very careful in seeking to involve the Queen in any political debate. But when there is a prima facie threat to the nature and survival of the Monarchy, it is difficult not to do so.

Under the Constitution, the Queen is confirmed as an EU citizen, subject to EU laws made by foreign officials whom we did not elect and cannot remove. Her Majesty's Government has no control, and very limited influence, over these laws -- I myself have seen HMG Ministers pleading for Britain to be "let off" particularly damaging EU regulations, and being turned down flat.

The Queen personifies the independence and sovereignty of the nation. But under the Constitution, Her Majesty ceases to be "sovereign" in any meaningful sense, since the country she used to rule is no longer independent or self-governing. For a more detailed look at this issue, see this article.


Constitution: a Bruges Group pamphlet

The Bruges Group has just published a paper "A Constitution to Destroy Europe", by Bill Jamieson, Editor of The Scotsman. He looks particularly at the huge disjuncture between the high-flown aspirations of the Constitution, and the reality of economic and demographic decline in the real Europe. I recommend it. To obtain a copy, price 2, contact the Bruges Group on 0207 287 4414, or e-mail at [email protected].

And for more information and daily updates on Constitution issues, contact:

Iain Hollingshead
Vote 2004
7 Tufton Street, London, SW1P 3QB
Tel: 0207 799 3755
Fax: 0207 799 3535
http://www.vote-2004.com/


THE FUTURE OF EUROPE: Put It to the People

We are getting a hugely positive public response to our campaign for a Referendum on the European Constitution. The European Commission's own research shows that 86% of the British people (and a stunning 92% of the French!) want a referendum. But the same research showed negligible support for the Constitution itself.

In the East Midlands, the public are even more eager to sign up for a Constitutional referendum than they were for the Pound. This is a campaign that goes directly with the grain of public opinion. It's right for Britain, and a huge opportunity for our party.

To get your forms, visit www.conservatives.com and click on Campaigns. Or visit the page directly and download the petition at:

www.conservatives.com/campaigns/campaign.cfm?obj_id=73417

Remember the forms must be done by Constituency, and don't let anyone sign twice or they invalidate the page. We need thousands of signatures -- especially in Labour marginals, where the petition will embarrass pro- Constitution Labour MPs. Let's go for it.


Will North Sea Oil and Gas go the same way as our Fisheries?

The draft EU Constitution gives Brussels control over energy policy. It's just one line in the draft, but its implications are huge, and the oil and gas industry is just waking up to them -- and it is alarmed at the prospect. Depending on how the Commission -- and the European Court -- interpret the Constitution, this could well give Brussels control over North Sea exploration, drilling licences, taxation, and where and how the oil and gas are sold.

It is a complete revolution in the management of the North Sea, and it threatens to hand over British oil and gas interests to Brussels just as our fisheries were given away thirty years ago.

Newspaper reports suggest that the Foreign Office had simply not realised the possible implications of the provision. And bear in mind that the warning comes not from fringe euro-sceptic groups intent on finding EU scare stories, but from the industry itself.


The battle for hunting

On November 1st, Sara and I went to Melton Mowbray for the Countryside Alliance's Hunting Declaration Day, when thousands of hunt supporters signed a declaration that they would hunt on the first day of any future hunting ban.

It is a serious matter for anyone, and especially for a parliamentarian, to decide to break the law. But when a law is such an affront to liberty and common sense as the proposed hunting ban, then breaking an unjust law becomes not so much a right as a duty. Democracy is supposed to protect minorities -- not to impose the dictatorship of the ill- informed prejudices of an urban majority.

On a lighter note, we recently had a "Host a Roast" supper that proceeded safari-style round the village to raise funds for the Countryside Alliance. Of course I was familiar with all the homes we visited, but I was struck by the way that every one of them had walls covered in horses, dogs, birds and sporting prints. Hunting is such a fundamental part of country life and culture -- we cannot, must not let it go.


Gordon Brown goes euro-sceptic!

In case you might have missed it, may I draw your attention to the article in the Daily Telegraph by Gordon Brown, plus the associated news story and commentary. Appropriately, his explosive comments appeared on November 5th!

Some quotes from Gordon Brown's article:

"Europe's rigidities, inflexibilities and lack of competitiveness are now fully exposed in the era of global competition"

"We must explicitly reject old flawed assumptions that a single market should inexorably lead to tax harmonisation, fiscal federalism and then a federal state"

"Europe cannot afford the old social model which means that 40% of Europe's unemployed, in contrast to 5% of America's, are long-term unemployed".

"Contrary to past assumptions, people are firmly rooted in their national cultures"


Some comment, also from the Telegraph:

"Brown the sceptic blasts EU federalism". "Gordon Brown now sounds as hard-line as any of the Anti-Maastricht Tory campaigners".

I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, but I agree with every word!


"Benefits" of EU membership

The Daily Telegraph (Nov 10th) reports moves in the House of Lords to demand a cost-benefit analysis of British membership of the EU. The government is resisting this, on the grounds that the benefits of membership are "self- evident" -- but is strangely reluctant to say what they are!

Now the House of Lords may do its own study. I am aware of four substantial, independent studies so far on this question. One concludes that we benefit from membership, one that the economic effects of withdrawal would be neutral, and two conclude that the economic effects of membership are negative.

The Telegraph editorial mentions (which I did not previously know) that there were also three Treasury reports on this question, at the time of our successive membership applications from 1962 onwards, and that all three gave the project a thumbs-down.

I am finding it increasingly difficult to find any economic or political justification for continued British membership of the EU on anything like the current terms -- still less under the new Constitution.

See this article for further comment on this topic:


Young Britons Foundation

The YBF is an organisation for young, conservative-inclined political activists. It has links with the Heritage Foundation in Washington, which is a pretty good commendation. In November (13th to 16th) it is conducting its Training Conference, where speakers will include Frederick Forsyth, Madsen Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute, David Davies MP, John Redwood MP, and my MEP colleague Dan Hannan.

For more details, visit www.ybf.org.uk. This news comes too late to sign on for the Conference, but if you're between 15 and 30, it might be worth keeping an eye on the web-site. I well remember Conservative training weekends at Swinton when I was in that age group -- tears of nostalgia dim the eyes!


Remembrance Sunday

On Sunday 9th, Sara and I had the privilege of joining the Charnwood Civic Party at the Loughborough War Memorial for the Remembrance Day Service. We gathered round the magnificent square tower, which houses a carillon of bells. During the two minutes silence, huge numbers of poppy petals were sprinkled from the top of the tower, and blew round the base in a chill November breeze.

It was a moving occasion. There was a huge turn-out of British Legion, TA, Scouts and Guides, Boys Brigade, and members of the public. Charnwood Mayor Jack Moore, resplendent in a scarlet robe with a broad fur collar, looked like a visitor from an older and saner world.

Remembering the courage and sacrifice of those who fought and died for their country, it is difficult not to contrast it with the altogether more casual attitude to national independence which some people seem to adopt today.


Conclusion

That's it for now. Please remember to check my web-site at www.rogerhelmer.com for more background on current parliamentary business and other issues.

RFH