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Straight Talking - July 2004

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 euro-election: not quite the result we hoped for…..

We approached the election confident that we should get three Tory MEPs elected, and hopeful that we might see the back of Bill Turncoat Dunn. Sadly, we achieved neither of these objectives. Indeed by half-way through the count, we were worried whether we should even top the poll at all in the East Midlands. In the end we did, but less than 5000 votes separated us and UKIP.

…but thanks anyway

A huge number of people made an enormous effort in the campaign, and thank heaven they did, or we might indeed have been pipped at the post. Chris and I, and the whole euro-team, owe a debt of thanks to regional and constituency officers, councillors, MPs and PPCs, and activists up and down the region who wore out shoe-leather on thousands of garden paths, and worked telephones in the last weeks of the campaign.

Thanks to Conservative agents and especially to our regional agent David Surtees. Thanks to Ruth Morrison and her daughter Lisa, who sat outside the count with mobile phones and got us the regional result a half-hour before they were officially announced. Thanks especially to those Conservative voters who stayed with us despite the blandishments of UKIP.

And Chris and I must especially thank the rest of our euro-team. Sharon, Jonathan and Sarah worked their socks off with no real hope of being elected. And a special word for Pauline Latham. No one deserved victory more than she did, and we feel her disappointment very keenly.

Lessons to be learned

For years, the Party has tried to bridge the gap between the members and activists, who are overwhelmingly euro-sceptic, and the dwindling rump of euro-philes. This election shows that such a policy is no longer tenable. No such compromise exists. In trying to appease the euro-phile dinosaurs, we have seen members and activists slipping away.

An opinion poll in The Times a fortnight before the election showed that more Conservative voters wanted to leave the EU than to stay. Many thousands of our natural supporters preferred the clarity of UKIP's message to our carefully nuanced ambiguity.

Overwhelmingly, people I talk to in the East Midlands say "We voted in 1975 for free trade, for a Common Market, not for political union". It is time to give them what they want. I have written to Michael Howard urging a reappraisal of our EU policy. I admire our Leader's commitment to repatriate fisheries and overseas aid, and to dump the EU's "Social Chapter", but that's not enough. We need wide-ranging disengagement. We need an EU policy based solely on free trade and voluntary co-operation.

Blair will call this "withdrawal". But frankly, I don't care what he calls it. What I care about is the independence and self-determination of our country, and I believe it is the historic task of the Conservative Party to reclaim it.


Conservatives and the EPP

Like many Party members and activists, I have been very concerned about our relationship with the federalist EPP group in the European parliament. But we now have good news.

The European Democrats (ED), previously little more than a cosmetic device to give the appearance of separation from the EPP, has now been reconstituted. It will have its own constitution, policy papers, meetings, chairman and officers, and it will have sufficient resources to promote its agenda. Already we have been joined by centre-right parties from Italy, Portugal and the Czech Republic, and we anticipate that other parties, both from the previous 15 member-states and from the accession countries, may wish to join us.

We will continue to have a technical alliance with the EPP for some administrative purposes, such as allocation of Committee posts and speaking time in debates, but we will be able to promote a euro-realist centre-right agenda in a way which has not so far been possible. We are determined to ensure that this new arrangement is a success.

It has another benefit: given a couple more nationalities, the ED pillar by itself would meet the criteria under parliamentary rules to become, if it chose to do so, a totally independent group. It is a lifeboat, which could if necessary be floated off.

Quote of the month

Michał Tomasz Kamiński MEP is the leader of the Polish Law & Justice Party in the parliament. He is the one who, as a teenager, listened to the BBC World Service on a clandestine radio behind the Iron Curtain, and was so impressed by Margaret Thatcher that he decided to become a Conservative politician.

Asked recently about the vexed question of whether the EU Constitution should include a reference to God, he replied "What can I say? I am a Pole, and a Catholic. My religion is very important to me. But personally, I do not want a European Constitution in the first place, so I do not give a **** about this question!".

Amen to that, say I.

The First ALEC Adam Smith Scholarship

ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is a national organisation of conservative state legislators. They work closely with a number of conservative US think-tanks, like the Heritage Foundation. Chris Heaton-Harris and I have visited a couple of their conventions, and conducted briefings and debates on EU issues and transatlantic policy.

ALEC has just created the role of Adam Smith Scholar, and I am delighted and honoured that they have decided to offer their first scholarship to me. I have contributed an initial paper to a colloquium on conservative issues. My paper, "Political developments in Europe - and their message for America", which you can find on this site, deals with the implications of the euro-elections for Britain, for Brussels, and for the transatlantic relationship.

It is a particular attraction of the scholarship that the paper will be widely circulated amongst opinion-formers and political analysts in Washington, including the White House, the State Department, and key members on the Congressional International Relations Committees.

The railways are good for the environment - aren't they?

For decades it has been a core assumption of environmentalists that cars are bad, trains are good. So it is interesting that a recent study by a team from the University of Lancaster has found that modern diesel cars emit less CO2 per seat-mile than regular trains - and much less than high-speed trains! And on some comparisons, even aircraft do better than trains.

While it's sad to see the demise of a cherished prejudice, car drivers may well take comfort. We have been traduced and vilified by the tree-huggers for too long. I am just buying a diesel car which delivers excellent fuel consumption. And in a magnanimous gesture to the environmental lobby, I've ordered it in green!

The battle for Sterling is over. The Battle of Britain is about to commence.

For the five years of the last parliament, I have made a habit of wearing a Sterling pin in my lapel - both in the East Midlands and in Europe. I have decided for the next parliament to switch to a Union Jack pin instead.

Don't be alarmed. My commitment to our national currency is as strong as ever. But I believe (without being complacent) that we have won that argument. Blair knows in his heart that he cannot win a euro referendum.

The debate now moves to the EU Constitution, and the fundamental question of whether Britain remains an independent nation, or not. We must convince Blair that he can never win a referendum on the Constitution, either. To symbolise our commitment to nationhood, what better than a national flag?

The Constitution - Dan Hannan's view

My colleague Dan Hannan MEP, who writes for the Daily Telegraph, has contributed a splendid article to The Spectator (June 26th) entitled "The Way Ahead for Europe". (Registered users of the Spectator website can follow this link).

He argues that Tony Blair is right to say that the EU Constitution is not a constitution for a federal state. It is worse than that, says Dan. In a federal state, some powers are clearly left to the constituent members of the federation. The EU Constitution, on the other hand, creates a centralised unitary state, with virtually all powers in Brussels. In many respects Britain would have fewer independent powers than (say) Rhode Island. Well worth a read.

Bruges Group papers

The Bruges Group has published two excellent new papers (for more details, go to their website www.brugesgroup.com). Dr. Richard North's "Gallileo: The Military and Political Dimensions" draws attention to the military applications of the EU's Gallileo global positioning satellite system - military applications that the EU institutions are desperate to deny, but which clearly exist.

Gallileo represents a real threat to US (and therefore Western) strategic interests, the more so as Russia and China are the EU's partners in the project. As such, says Dr. North, Gallileo threatens the special defence and intelligence relationship between Britain and the USA, and leaves us all less secure.

The Second paper, "Will the EU's Constitution Rescue its Currency?", by Professor Tim Congdon, reviews the failure so far of the euro, which has created exactly the problems which many of us have been predicting for years. According to Professor Congdon, we face a very unpalatable choice. Either we accept full political and fiscal union in the EU, which no Conservative could countenance for a moment, or we watch the macro-economic damage of the euro go from bad to worse.

For us in Britain, the message is clear: we were right to stay out, and we should be mad to join now.

Tired of Political Correctness?

A new organisation has been formed to fight political correctness. I can't vouch for them personally, but I like the idea. For more on this, visit www.capc.co.uk

The Health Service

Public services are shaping up, rightly, as the key battle-ground for the next general election. So it is a pity that the media are saying "Nothing to choose on the NHS between Labour and the Tories. Both offer choice".

Nothing could be further from the truth. I used to say that the NHS was the biggest employer in Europe after the Red Army. But the Red Army has slimmed down. The NHS is currently the biggest employer bar none.

Labour may talk the language of choice, but they are wedded to a fifty-year old model of provision, based on Whitehall diktats and targets and a blizzard of policies and directives from government. For all practical purposes, this is Soviet Central Planning. And if we have learned one thing in the last hundred years, it is that Central Planning doesn't work.

And the other thing we have learned is that markets - the power of consumer choice - do work. Until the patient is a client, not a supplicant, we shall never solve the problem. Tory policy will mobilise the power of choice to drive up standards and service.

Not convinced? Look at how they do it on the continent. If it works for them, chances are it will work for us too.


I am now back in Parliament till 30th July when this parliamentary term comes to an end. Parliament, and my office, then reopens on 23rd August. Please remember to check my web-site at www.rogerhelmer.com for more background on current parliamentary business, full details of proposals being voted at the Strasbourg plenary session, and a host of other issues.