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Straight Talking 50th Edition - April 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.

Watch out! Here comes the EU Constitution! Again!

The word is that Jacques Chirac and Germany's Angela Merkel are plotting to reintroduce the failed European Constitution. The European parliament is organising "parliamentary hearings" with national parliaments on the issue. The good and the great, including ex-President Giscard d'Estaing (who drafted the document) are insisting we must have it. Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt suggests a conference of euro-zone countries to revive it, raising the intriguing (and attractive) possibility that it might go ahead without the UK.

They talk about European values, democracy and the rule of law, yet their contempt for public opinion, and for the democratic verdict of France and Holland, is monumental.

My good friend Dan Hannan MEP, who sits on the constitutional affairs committee, believes that they will implement 85% of the draft constitution piecemeal, using a very liberal interpretation of the existing treaties (as indeed they are already doing). They will then have a new intergovernment­al conference to address the remaining, irreducible 15% (including the legal personality and permanent President), and conclude that this is too trivial a matter to subject to a referendum. And Bingo! They'll have it all, without ever asking our approval.

The enemy is within the gates

On March 28th, East Anglia Conservative MEP Chris Beazley co-signed a letter to the Times along with Richard Corbett (Labour) and Andrew Duff (Lib-Dem) -- two of the most egregious federalists in the parliament. In a paean of praise to European integration, he announces a new cross-party grouping to promote the EU. The three describe themselves as "un­abashedly pro-European". Unhelpfully, the letter appeared on the same day as I was debating European political parties against Corbett on BBC TV.

When I lost the Conservative whip last June, one of the main complaints against me was that "I collaborated with Nigel Farage of UKIP". (In fact I did no such thing -- I merely used parliamentary Rule 141 to interrupt Farage's speech in plenary). We will see how the Whips' office responds to Beazley's brazen collaboration with Corbett and Duff. Perhaps it's OK to collaborate with federalists, but not with sceptics?

Visit www.toryradio.com!

On April 1st I went to Swadlincote to canvass with candidate Jon McEwan in a council by-election, and I met former PPC Jonathan Sheppard, who runs a pod-cast web-site called www.toryradio.com. He's recently interviewed Iain Duncan Smith, Greg Clark and Chris Grayling, so I was rather flattered that he wanted to talk to me.

You can hear the 15-minute interview on your computer. Just visit the website. It covers my current situation vis-a-vis the Conservative MEP delegation, and my ambitions for Conservative EU policy. Joining me in the interview (and on the streets of Swadlincote later on!) was Andrew Woodman, one of the three sponsors of the Reinstate Roger web-site.

It seems that Timothy Kirkhope is very upset about some comments I made in the ToryRadio interview regarding Chris Beazley MEP. But there is one question Kirkhope needs to answer: Why is it apparently OK for Edward Macmillan-Scott MEP to criticise David Cameron on national television (Newsnight), but not OK for me to criticise Beazley on a specialist pod-cast web-site? Do we have a double standard here?

Reinstate Roger: Campaign up-date

www.reinstateroger.com has an exciting new look, with a picture of Phil Gallie MSP (see below). As I write, over 300 party members including a large number of councillors, party office holders and former candidates, have signed up. Thank you all -- I am enormously grateful. I am particularly grateful to the sixteen MPs who have added their names -- and to the three young men, Richard Hyslop, Chris Palmer and Andrew Woodman, who set up the site to start with. Petition forms for signature are available from the web-site.

And special thanks to MSP Phil Gallie, who came to see me in Brussels to show his support for the campaign -- see his photo with me.

Ban Saudi drivers!

Along with the Chairman of the Women's Committee, Anna Zaborska (a very sound Slovak MEP) and two other colleagues, I have co-sponsored a Written Declaration of the parliament calling for Saudi Arabian men to be banned from driving in all EU member-states until such time as Saudi women are allowed to drive in their home country.

I have long been worried by the asymmetry between Western democracies and authoritarian régimes. For example, Saudi Arabians are free to build mosques (subject to planning permission!) in the East Midlands, but Christians cannot build churches in Riyadh. The most egregious example is the way that Saudi women are banned from driving in their own country. No reference to religious or cultural differences can justify this flagrant breach of basic human rights.

Of course I don't imagine for a moment that such a ban will come to pass, but by calling for it we dramatise an injustice which is too easy to ignore. And the fact that we chose to press-release an admittedly rather quirky idea on March 31st helped to ensure media coverage!

So, Mr. Helmer, what do you do for the East Midlands?

I'm always keen to talk about the big issues of Britain and Europe, so I was taken aback at a recent East Midlands Regional Assembly meeting when a strident Labour councillor asked "Yes but what do you do for people in the region?" (as though independence and self-determination didn't matter to local people!).

So I've prepared a colourful four-page leaflet bringing together reports on various aspects of my work, from attacking Tony Blair in Brussels to defending Stilton cheese against the food fascists, and campaigning for a Bomber Command memorial in Lincoln. I'm sending 100+ copies to every constituency (please circulate to branches!), but if you want your own copy please send an S.A.E. to 11 Central Park, Lutterworth, Leics LE17 4PN.

I meet Attila the Hun

Yes, you read that right. During the March Strasbourg session, I was privileged to meet Hungarian Professor Dr Attila Aszodi, Director of the Science faculty of the Budapest University of Technology & Economics, along with Jozsef Kovacs, CEO of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant in Hungary.

The Hungarians are doing rather well with nuclear power, which provides some 40% of their energy needs. And they have done so well on their safety record, and so well in community relations, that repeated opinion polls show 75% of local residents support the power station. Maybe that might encourage Tony Blair as he plucks up the courage to announce new nuclear investment.

March comes in like a lion...

...or perhaps like a polar bear. The Arctic weather in March shook my faith in global warming (never very strong). Of course I'm all in favour of cutting CO2 emissions, but for very different reasons from the Greens. I worry about energy security -- remember when President Putin turned off the gas tap to Europe? -- and about our balance of payments, and about oil and gas prices. We have to face the fact that oil will cease to be available during the lifetimes of our children -- at least in the sort of high volumes that allow current levels of use.

It's ironic that some of the people who're alarmed about global warming are the very same people who forty years ago were predicting catastrophic global cooling, a new ice age and a glacier over Yorkshire. But it doesn't matter if James Lovelock wants nuclear power in order to avoid a global climate catastrophe, and I want it to prevent an economic catastrophe. The fact is, we agree we want it, if for different reasons. And yes of course we should also develop renewables, but they will never deliver the reliable, high volume base-load power on which our economy (and our children's jobs) depend.

Quote of the month

From my Finnish colleague Ari Vatanen MEP, former rally driver, writing on nuclear energy:

"The biomass action plan will help a bit -- about as much as getting a haircut to lose some weight".

The French get it wrong -- again

As I write, French young people are out there rioting against a very modest labour market reform which might help give some of them jobs, and shorten the dole queues. They just don't get it. They can't understand that rigid labour markets mean fewer jobs. They're campaigning to export jobs to China. Rather than face the challenge of globalisation, they want to capitulate. But then, they're French!

But this is not just an isolated French problem. It illustrates how continental Europe, with its sclerotic social model, is just not prepared to face up to the challenge of globalisation. They must change or die, and right now they seem to want to die. Yet another reason for us to distance ourselves from the failing EU.

As Tony Blair himself said, "What sort of social model is it that leaves 20 million people unemployed across Europe?".

When is a civil war not a civil war?

(And when is EU membership not EU membership?).

Iyad Allawi, former Prime Minister of Iraq, insists that the country is in the grip of civil war. President Bush says no. But we all have a fairly clear idea about what is going on in Iraq, so the debate is not about the reality, but about how we choose to define and use the term "civil war". Often intense political debates turn out to be about semantics, not substance.

Take Britain's membership of the EU, for example. I would like to see a new arrangement based solely on free trade and voluntary inter-governmental cooperation. Is that membership of the EU, or associate membership, or not membership at all? It depends on how you want to use the words. But I don't care what we call it, so long as we get it.

And when is an admission of guilt not an admission of guilt?

Tony Blair brokered the acceptance of "loans at commercial rates" which he used to finance Labour's 2005 election campaign, without the knowledge of his Party Treasurer. So far as I know, we have no evidence of any interest actually being paid at commercial rates, or at all. And I have yet to hear when and how Blair intends to repay these loans.

It appears that these fund transfers were called "loans" merely to avoid the rules on declaring contributions, and probably they were in fact contributions, thinly disguised as loans.

Does Blair apologise? No he does not. Instead he rushes in new rules to outlaw the very activity he has just been engaging in. He seems to think he can expiate past shady dealing by outlawing it in future. I am not sure that the public will agree.

"There is no England"

So says Lib-Dem Councillor Peter Arnold, Leader of the Newcastle City Council, in a letter to The Independent (March 16th). And he goes on "England is the genuine mongrel nation", and for good measure "I have no loyalty to England".

A couple of years back the European Commission published a map of the UK which clearly marked Scotland and Wales, but not England. Taken aback by a storm of protest, at least the Commission had the good grace to apologise. But not Mr. Arnold.

Asked by a radio interviewer what Mr. Arnold should do now, I said "He should crawl up Grey Street on hands and knees, in sack-cloth and ashes, and apologise to the people who elected him". I have enquired whether his view is official Lib-Dem policy, but so far I have no reply.

Gordon Brown turns his back on growth

During the budget speech, Gordon Brown accused the Conservatives of wanting to cut taxes, and therefore to cut spending on public services. But he knows (or ought to know) that, counter-intuitively, cutting tax rates means higher government revenues, not spending cuts. This has been proved over and over again in dozens of countries over several decades.

Lower tax rates mean the middle classes spend more time on wealth creation and less on creative accounting. It means that rich individuals don't go abroad to overseas tax havens. It means that those on the margins of employment get into work, and those in the black economy are motivated to go legit. Lower taxes mean higher inward investment, more jobs, faster growth, and higher tax revenues to pay for better public services. Lower tax rates are the start of a virtuous circle on which Gordon Brown has turned his back, but which Conservatives must embrace.

Go to Brussels -- meet interesting people

One of the privileges of my job is meeting a whole lot of interesting people. During week commencing March 20th I met incoming US Ambassador Boyden Gray, formerly a legal counsel to Bush senior, at a reception at the Brussels residence of Nirj Deva MEP; outgoing Korean Ambassador Mr. Oh and his wife at a farewell reception; and the foreign Minister of Sri Lanka The Hon. Mangala Samaraweera. Then there was the Foreign Minister of the Turkish territory of Northern Cyprus, and Neil O'Brien from Open Europe.

The National Museum of Fox-hunting

On March 31st I visited the Melton Carnegie Museum, which is (in effect) the national museum of fox-hunting. It has recently received a £50,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which it is using for a year-long project to track the effects of the hunting ban. (Since we're still hunting, the effects are likely to be less severe than many of us feared!).

Press Officer Laura and I met Jenny Dancey, the museum's curator, as well as Researcher Carolyn Abel, who is undertaking the project (her last very different project was a sociological study of ethnic minority communities in Leicester). The museum is a must for anyone interested in country sports and our rural heritage. Pictures will be up on my web-site soon.

Back to the fifties

I see that the government is to require schools to teach reading by the "synthetic phonics" method. That's the method I learned by in the late forties. C--A--T spells "cat". This amounts to an admission that decades of so-called progressive, child-centred education have failed.

In Korea (where I lived for four years), they have whole-class teaching, learning by rote (I remember hearing them reciting their tables from outside in the street), and much larger classes than we would allow in the UK -- yet on average Korean children are two years ahead of British kids in maths.

The good news is that with synthetic phonics, more children in British schools will actually learn to read. The bad news is that we've allowed "modern" teaching methods to fail generations of children.

Maybe we were right on immigration

A YouGov poll for Migration Watch shows that 76% of people believe that there should be an annual limit on immigration to the UK. This was Conservative policy before the last election. Perhaps we had that one right. For more, visit www.migrationwatchuk.org.


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.