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Straight Talking - November 2005

Love Europe. Hate the European Union

Roger Helmer's electronic newsletter from Brussels

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 want to go onto the e-mail list please click here.

The Leadership

There has been a wealth of responses to the recent statement from Chris and myself on the Leadership question, with views on both sides. That's democracy -- we're all entitled to a view, and all Party members are entitled to vote. We are fortunate to have two such strong candidates, and the intense media interest has been very positive for the Party.

I have done straw polls at several Party events, and I'm finding three or four-to-one in favour of Cameron. May the best man win!

So is Cameron "like Blair"?

Some good Conservatives are concerned when Cameron is described in the media as "like Blair" (or in Davis's phrase, "Tony Blair with a blue rosette"). But it depends on what "Like Blair" means!

If we mean committed, like Blair, to soft socialism, a larger state, higher taxes, more regulation, more European integration, then Cameron is not like Blair at all. But if we mean "Like Blair ten years ago", young, fresh, media-savvy, electable, attractive to sections of the electorate who haven't voted Tory in a while, then maybe he is. And a good thing too.

Europhile MEPs break cover

For decades, it's been possible for a Conservative MEP to come back to his re-selection meeting once every five years, make a moderately euro-sceptic speech, get re-selected, and spend another five years cosying-up to the federalists in Brussels. For example, I heard Chris Beazley's re-selection speech (Anglia Region) in 2003, and I could hardly believe it was the same euro-enthusiast I know in Brussels.

Suddenly, however, the possibility that the Party might break the link with the federalist EPP group has brought them out of cover. Funny how for years they've been saying that the EPP is not an issue, that no one mentions it on the doorstep, that we sceptics are obsessive about it. Now that the boot could be on the other foot, they suddenly realise its important!

Sir Robert Atkins was quoted in the Times as saying that David Cameron "was living in cloud-cuckoo-land". As I lost the whip for using the word "inappropriate", I look forward to seeing what disciplinary action is taken against Sir Robert for attacking a shadow minister and leadership candidate.

Sir Robert also said that sceptics were planning to "join up with the Italian fascists". This is quite simply a lie, as he knows very well. I challenged him face-to-face with this point in Brussels on Nov 9th, and he replied "I don't care. It doesn't bother me".

Giles Chichester MEP (SW), whom I have always regarded as a fairly level-headed chap, came out with an extraordinary rant in his newsletter. He attacks the EPP proposal in intemperate terms. He describes it as "a blinkered Little England policy of withdrawal, disengagement and isolationism". (The truth is, of course, that Britain is a great global trading nation currently constrained by its immersion in the EU -- we want a looser relationship with Europe so that we can better engage with the world as a whole).

Then he proceeds to a barbed personal attack: "One MEP elected as a Conservative manoeuvred to have himself expelled from the EPP and went off to join a couple of ex-UKIP MEPs in the non-aligned rump of the parliament". Outrageous, misleading, provocative, confrontational -- pick your own adjective! I did not, of course "join the non-aligned" -- that is merely an artefact of the parliament's own internal organisation, for which I am not responsible. What I did was to become independent in the parliament, to leave a passionately federalist group, and I am happy and proud to have done so.

Whichever Leader we choose, the mood of the Party will be to put aside any differences and get behind the new Leadership. Any MEPs who decide to rock the boat will be deeply unpopular. They will pay a terrible price at re-selection time for their intransigence.

So just what is wrong with the EPP?

The EPP describes itself as "the motor of European integration". Its leader Hans-Gert Poetering, speaking inter alia for the British Conservatives, said "No one, but no one, may stand in the way of European integration". The EPP wants a European Army, a European justice system, a European FBI. It wants the end of the British rebate, and the end of the UK's permanent seat on the UN Security Council. It wants the euro and the EU Constitution.

Just which part of this agenda are we Conservatives supposed to support? For more on the EPP, see my notes on Why Conservative MEPs should not sit with the EPP.

Leicester Hustings, Nov 14th

I asked a question (through the Chairman): "Do the candidates understand that the so-called European Democrats Group is a mere cosmetic fiction with no meetings, no officers, no staff and no budget? Do they agree that Conservative MEPs must leave the EPP if we are to build a Conservative group and a Conservative voice in Brussels?". I was gratified and touched that the question itself got a round of applause.

Cameron's reply was bang on the money. He would get us out of the EPP in short order. Davis agreed that the ED was an empty husk, but said we should build it up before floating it off as a separate group (so he too agrees that we should leave the EPP -- eventually). He doesn't seem to understand that the EPP have a cast-iron veto on new MEPs joining the ED. They are not likely to cooperate in the creation of a new group intent on leaving them.

More on this on www.conservativehome.blogs.com . Another site worth a visit is www.patrioticpoll.co.uk

Of fireworks and pharmacology

So another bonfire season is over. Each year it seems to last longer than before. Each year horses and dogs are terrified, night after night, and their distress is horrible to see (despite pharmacological intervention in the case of our greyhound, Dilly).

Kindly souls who would never dream of attacking a horse or a dog with a piece of four-by-two will happily cause equal terror and panic with their fusillade of fireworks. Upright citizens who may be members of the RSPCA, or perhaps even campaigners against hunting, will explode a series of thunderclaps in the sky over their neighbours' loose boxes without a second thought. Indeed they are affronted when politely asked at twenty to eleven at night to desist, as I found to my cost. "It's my fortieth birthday", one said accusingly, as if birthdays were a licence for animal cruelty.

I hate to be a kill-joy, and no one can object to appropriate displays of fireworks in the right place. But the sight of the dog rigid yet shaking with terror (despite the double glazing) is enough to change anyone's mind.

Why don't Blair's lies make us angry?

We are so accustomed to the Prime Minister's detachment from reality that we take his lies for granted, and discount them.

In June, he said "The UK rebate will remain, and we will not negotiate it away. Period". Even last month he insisted "he would not give up the British rebate". Yet Jack Straw said in Brussels on November 7th that "only the size of the hike in British payments was now in question ... We are ready to discuss the rebate". There would be no repeat of Britain's hard-line stance in June. The government is preparing public opinion for a climb-down.

Worse yet, the "red-line" issue of the size of the budget, which the government insisted should not exceed 1% of EU GDP, has been abandoned (Telegraph May 8th, quoting Whitehall sources).

We used to have words to describe this kind of behaviour. Lies, appease­ment and surrender spring to mind.

France: The suburbs are burning

France is facing a terrible problem with rioting in the suburbs, mostly in run-down estates occupied primarily by ethnic minorities. There are a multitude of causes for the problem, but surely the biggest difficulty is the European social model (exacerbated by the rigidities of the euro currency), which creates unemployment, leading to poverty, dependency and hopelessness.

In June, in the European parliament in Strasbourg, Tony Blair asked "What sort of social model is it that creates twenty million unemployed across Europe?". We, and the French, are still waiting for an answer.

A busy week

The week commencing October 31st was a "Constituency Week". I had a number of interesting engagements. On Friday 28th I addressed a South Holland & the Deepings dinner in Spalding. On the Saturday, I was campaigning in Leicester with Nicky Morgan.

On Sunday, Press Officer Laura Norman and I joined campaigners against a proposed wind farm at Podington. This is a few hundred yards outside my region, but the noise and strobe shadow will affect parts of Northampton­shire -- Rushden and Higham Ferrers. Of course we need to develop alternative energy sources, but there are powerful arguments to suggest that wind is uneconomic and only kept afloat by government subsidy, and that in any case, Podington is a very bad place to site 400-foot turbines. See my web-site for more on this.

On Tuesday, I was invited to speak to the Nottingham University Conservative Club about Europe. Whenever the EU suffers a set-back, like the French NO vote, eurocrats say "we have to explain the EU better to the citizens". But I find that the more I explain the EU to people, the angrier they get!

On Wednesday Laura and I lunched with the new Editor of the Derby Evening Telegraph, and his Political Editor, as part of our on-going programme of keeping in touch with key regional media.

On Thursday I was a guest of the Foxton Locks project near market Harborough, along with Cllr. Graham Hart. They are doing a marvellous job of re-developing the locks on the canal and the Victorian inclined plane, a remarkable piece of industrial archaeology. Open to the public, it's a very worthwhile project -- and a great day out. The re-developed Foxton Locks Inn, a joint venture between British Waterways and Scottish & Newcastle, has been a huge success.

On Friday, I spoke to an Activists Training Event organised by the Young Britons' Foundation (www.ybf.org.uk), in Oxfordshire, before driving to Lincolnshire for the Conference dinner, and the attending the Conference on the Saturday. I spoke in a debate on the Leadership, in favour of Cameron. Jonathan Sheppard (former Bassettlaw PPC) spoke for Davis. In a straw poll after the debate, there was a big majority for Cameron.

High Peak Visitor Group -- Quote of the Month

The following week we welcomed a group from High Peak, led by PPC Andrew Bingham, to Brussels. I invited Ivo Strecjek, a Czech MEP, to address them, and he went down a storm. In fact he has given me my "Quote for the Month", based on his experiences in a former Warsaw Pact country:

"Remember that it is very easy to lose your freedom, and very difficult to get it back again".

Is Blair taking my advice?

On October 26th, I spoke in the Tony Blair debate in Strasbourg and suggested that Blair might like to pull his MEPs out of the socialist PES group, and apply to join the EPP instead ("Mr. Hans-Gett Poettering of the EPP is as New Labour as they come"). Perhaps Tony is taking my advice -- we have a photo of him shaking hands with Poettering.

Meeting the Archbishop

On November 8th I met the Archbishop of Canterbury in Brussels. He took the view that the EU is primarily a moral project -- not a feature I have noticed very much in six years in the parliament. I raised with him the recent press reports that he had said it had been "a sin" for 19th century Christian missionaries to take English hymns with them to foreign countries. Was it a sin for Muslims, I asked, to use Arabic music in the UK?

He gave a rather circumlocutory answer in which he said he'd been misreported, but he again used the word sin (embodied in the phrase "sin in its very broadest sense") to describe this "cultural imperialism". Yet again, I am dismayed by political correctness run mad

Bureaucracy? What bureaucracy?

Every so often some bright spark tells us that the EU institutions are really quite small -- no bigger than Birmingham City Council. I don't know how big Birmingham is, but I just put a question to the Commission about their staff, and the official answer on Sept 1st 2005 is 26,163. Bear in mind that's just one institution. It doesn't include the Council, the parliament, the ECB, the ECJ, the Committee of the Regions, the Economic and Social Committee .... I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

Mandelson in the hot seat

The World Trade Talks are in trouble, and our own Peter Mandelson has not covered himself in glory. He has found it difficult to get some of the member-states, especially France, on-side on the crucial issue of farm subsidies.

I heard someone refer to him recently as "Peter Meddlesome". Perhaps a Freudian slip, but I fear we may hear it again!

Who pays the ferret man?

A North West Lib-Dem MEP, Chris Davies (he's the pro-cannabis one) has set himself up as champion of ferrets in the EU. One of his colleagues, Sarah Ludford, is suggesting he might want to get himself featured on The Archers with Eddie Grundy.


That's it for this Strasbourg session. Please remember to check this website more background on current parliamentary business, full details of proposals being voted at the Strasbourg plenary session, and a host of other issues.