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Straight Talking - January 2006

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.

Best wishes for a Conservative New Year!

Blair pays the price of failure in Europe

Tony Blair came to Brussels on December 20th to report on the achievements of the British Presidency of the EU (July/Dec '05), but he had little success to report. I was again the first Conservative to speak in the debate (the advantages of being an independent!), and I made what I might modestly describe as one of the most scarifying speeches of my career. Full details and photo on the website.

"Your legacy, Prime Minister? You will be remembered as the man who squandered Margaret Thatcher's legacy!".

I am delighted to say that my intervention got more media coverage than I have ever achieved before. But if I had still been with the EPP, I should never have got to speak in the debate, and never had a chance to attack Blair's give-away of our money. The EU gives us a strong voice in international trade relations. Doesn't it?

One of the half-plausible arguments put up for the EU is that together, twenty-five countries have a stronger voice in international relations, and in the WTO, than we would have separately. So it is instructive to observe how this works in practice. In December the WTO met in Hong Kong. A deal that opened markets and cut farm subsidies and export subsidies would have been good for all countries, especially developing countries. And especially for a great trading nation like the UK. And why didn't we get that deal? Primarily because the EU, led by at this conference by our own Peter Meddlesome, stuck its heels in and refused to slay the CAP dragon.

In fact France and Jacques Chirac had a good December, by their own warped standards. They protected their farmers both in the EU budget negotiations, where they forced major concessions from Tony Blair but gave nothing in return, and at the WTO, where they saw off the threat to the CAP, and scuppered the deal. They are blithely unconcerned that they have thus done huge damage to the world economy, to developing countries, to the EU -- and to themselves.

Who governs Britain? José Manuel Barroso!

BBC Radio 4 decided to run a listener poll to decide who really governs Britain. Thousands of suggestions poured in. A special panel whittled the ideas down to ten, and the listeners duly voted. And the answer? The EU's Commission President, José Manuel Barroso! More than three times as many people voted Barroso as voted for Tony Blair. And this despite the BBC's constant diet of pro-EU propaganda. There will have been red faces in the Today programme's editorial office. The British public are smarter than the BBC realises. Remember the recent poll for a "Listeners' Law", when to the horror of the politically-correct, the listeners chose the right for householders to defend their property by force? Yet again, common sense beats political correctness hands-down!

Austria "to bring back EU Constitution"

This month, Austria takes over its six-month EU Presidency with a promise to bring back the EU Constitution. The argument seems to be -- should France vote again on the same text, or on a slightly modified text? Yet again, the EU juggernaut rumbles on, refusing to take NO for an answer.

The elegance of the French intellect

Nicolas Sarkozy, tipped as a future French President, gives us an example to show why French intellectuals dominate European thought. He argues that when the French electorate voted NO in the referendum they were not voting against the Constitution as such. Rather, they were voting against the EU as it is, and by implication, demanding reform. But, says Sarkozy, reform is exactly what the Constitution was designed to deliver -- so the French NO vote conclusively demonstrates that the French people say YES to the Constitution!

Quote of the month: Sneaky Treaty (Sun leader, Jan 10th):

"Now our devious EU masters have decided NO really meant YES. They insist voters were not against the Constitution itself but such niggling matters as job security. Without fanfare or approval, we now have an EU space programme, an EU criminal code, a defence agency, common asylum policy and a defence deal which trumps Nato... Now, Austria, France and Germany are trying to revive the whole rotten corpse as if the NO votes never happened."

Couldn't have put it better myself!

Philip Whitehead MEP

I was shocked and saddened to hear of the sudden death of Philip Whitehead at the age of 68, over the New Year. We had our political differences during our 6˝ years together in the European parliament, and indeed often crossed swords in the regional press, but on a personal basis we got on well. He was a charming and generous colleague, and will be sadly missed. He had been looking frail for some time.

The last time I saw Philip (outside the parliament) was at an Amnesty International event in Bakewell on December 1st. We both appear in a group photo taken on that occasion, which is on my web-site. I understand that there is to be a Memorial Service for him in Derby on January 29th, which I hope to attend.

Gaza hostage family has a local connection

Surely the whole of Britain gave a cheer on New Year's Eve when the news came through that the Burton family -- parents Hugh and Win, and daughter Kate -- had been released by their kidnappers in Gaza. But I was surprised to find that there is a local connection -- the Burtons are cousins of none other than David Surtees, our own Regional Campaign Director.

David tells me that the Burtons are a truly international family and have worked tirelessly for charities round the globe, and he points out that the random and thoughtless actions by the gunmen did more to damage Palestinian cause than it achieved for any objectives they try to represent. The whole family are grateful for the efforts made to free the Burtons.

Conservatives, David Cameron and transatlantic relations

Try www.heritage.org/Research/Europe/wm955.cfm for a US view of the Party, and of transatlantic relations. It's by Nile Gardiner, a highly impressive commentator attached to the Heritage Foundation

And the Daily Telegraph's excellent Brussels correspondent David Rennie is running a "blog" at www.telegraph.co.uk/brusselsblog I've contributed several comments to it. Worth a visit.

Also worth reading is Ruth Lea's Monday column in the Daily Telegraph Business News. Ruth used to be with the Institute of Directors, and is currently director of the Centre for Policy Studies.

December highlights

Despite the run-up to Christmas, a number of constituency events took place. Here are some I attended.

Millbank Dinner: Edward Leigh MP of Gainsborough led a lively debate at the Millbank Dinner at Kegworth, bringing together Conservatives from across the county and beyond.

Press relations: Chris & I and our Press Officer Laura Norman had lunch with Northampton Chronicle & Echo Editors Mark Edwards & Wayne Bontoft on December 2nd. This is part of an on-going programme of strengthening relations with local media.

Noble Cars, Barwell, Leics: On Dec 21st I visited Noble Cars to discuss proposed new EU rules on vehicle type approval which could affect low volume producers (Noble produces around 200 very hot sports cars a year). I shall be following this up with the rapporteur in Brussels. I am ashamed to say that until this issue arose, I did not realise that we had a specialist sports car company within a few miles of my home!

Nottingham Conservatives Christmas Party, Dec 19th: Before catching the afternoon flight to Brussels for the Blair debate on the 20th, I was glad to be able to attend the lunch party in King Edward Court along with Nottingham Conservatives. Thanks for the hospitality!

Channukah Festival: I was delighted to be invited to attend the Leicester Jewish Community's Channukah Festival (fourth candle) on December 28th in the Leicester City Hall. It was a happy occasion, and with representatives from across both the religious and political spectra, a good example of cross-cultural and cross-party cooperation.

Season of goodwill: I was mildly surprised to get an e-mail from a Party member asking why Chris and I had "spent so much tax-payers' money on an expensive Christmas card". For the record, all the costs of our card -- artwork, printing, postage -- were met from our own pockets. Not a penny was charged to parliament budgets or to the tax-payer!

Recent media

BBC Radio Nottingham phone-in, Jan 6th. Letter in the Guardian, same date.

Laura Norman to run in Northampton by-election

Chris and I are delighted that our Press Officer Laura Norman has agreed to stand as a candidate in a by-election in Spencer Ward in Northampton on February 9th for the Northampton Borough Council. The by-election arises because of the resignation of Cllr Paul Concannon, who was elected for Labour, became independent, then joined the Lib-Dems, and finally (no doubt in a moment of confusion) resigned. We wish Laura well and look forward to knocking on doors with her! Laura of course is an experienced long-distance runner, so running in Northampton should come naturally to her!

Laura also stood in the County Council elections last May.

A farewell to the London bus

So Ken Livingstone has finally killed off the iconic London bus, the famous Routemaster, apart from a few which will be kept for ceremonial purposes. He has replaced it with these revolting continental "bendy-buses", which apparently have a habit of spontaneously self-combusting from time to time. Why is it that these sour-faced socialists are determined to destroy everything familiar, everything that gives us a sense of identity and continuity? Whether it's policemen's helmets, or the office of Lord Chancellor, or our historic counties and historic regiments, they have to go. Even Christmas itself is under threat from the repellent ranks of the politically-correct. They call it "modernisation". I call it "alteration for the sake of novelty".

Apparently bendy-buses offer easier disabled access. But according to Boris Johnson, the bendy-buses also tend to crush cyclists alongside them. I am sure it will be a great comfort to the newly-disabled former cyclists, as they recuperate in hospital, to reflect that at least their nemesis offers better wheel-chair access.

Prescott and the 11+

Poor old John Prescott failed the 11+ exam, and has campaigned tirelessly against selection in education. Which is a pity, because selection simply means giving children the education that best matches their aptitudes.

The main problem with the 11+ was the inappropriate use of the word "fail". The fact is (though the socialists hate to admit it) that some children have more academic aptitude than others, and those with less academic aptitude are better served by an education more suited to their needs, which may well be a more vocational type of course. That's not failure. It's common sense.

The weird thing about Labour's current education policies is that they will accept selection by almost any criterion -- sport, music, drama -- except academic aptitude. Their blind adherence to outdated socialist ideology is damaging children, and damaging our economy.

Saving the red squirrel

On December 14th, the Strasbourg meeting of our Hunting & Conservation inter-group dealt with the plight of the red squirrel, being displaced across the UK and Ireland by the American grey squirrel, an introduced alien species. Italy is also threatened by grey squirrel colonies. I had been aware of the problems faced by the red squirrel, unable to compete against its larger and more vigorous challenger, but I had not quite appreciated the scope of the threat to our environment.

With its greater size and weight, and much higher stocking density in woodland, the grey is a huge threat to arboreal birds, eating their eggs in great numbers. It also browses on tree bark, to the extent that in future large forest trees may fail to reach maturity. In a hundred years our forest canopy could be down from 100 feet to 25.

One solution is to use chemical agents to reduce the fertility of the squirrels (now that squeamish public opinion will no longer allow the cull which would be the sensible response). My good friend and colleague Avril Doyle, a Fine Gael MEP from Ireland, asked if this chemical agent would be selective, as clearly it would be self-defeating if it also reduced the fertility of red squirrels. She was assured that it would be selective.

I passed her a note saying "Are you entirely comfortable with chemical weapons that target one race and not another?". She read the note, and then reacted with horror, as if she had found a scorpion in her corn flakes.

And a new field sport!

The lunatics and vandals of the extreme animal rights brigade thought they were striking a blow for freedom when they released dozens of wild boar from a farm in Devon recently. In fact, they have inadvertently re-introduced an ancient field sport to the UK -- boar hunting! Apparently boar hunting remains very popular in France, and French hunters have offered to come across to the UK to give us a few tips. Now that's a French import that I'd be happy to welcome!

The EPP issue

You can check it out at: www.brugesgroup.com/forms/EPPMisalliancePaper.pdf

I also have a major article on the issue in the January edition of Freedom Today. You can find it here

Dinner with Shimon Peres

I had the pleasure of dining with former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres in Strasbourg in December. One of the privileges of my job is to be able to meet some of the world's most prominent figures, and Peres was no disappointment. Despite his advanced years, he was sharp as a knife. I wish him well. See the photo here

I was very sorry to hear the news on January 5th of Ariel Sharon's serious stroke, just at a time when he seemed to promise a new beginning in Israeli politics.


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.