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Straight Talking - September 2008

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 receive the newsletter second-hand and want to go onto the e-mail list (or if you want to be deleted), please e-mail me on .

Alternatively you can subscribe with this form.

Roof falls in on European parliament

Honest -- not making this up -- a big chunk of roof fell down in the Straz Hemicycle in early August. More details next letter. But there are rumours of asbestos in the débris, so it may be a while before we can get back there. Meantime this current Strasbourg week is happening in Brussels.

The Freedom Zone

The Freedom Association (which I Chair) is organising what we believe is the biggest fringe event ever to take place at a Party Conference, in Birmingham in September. We have a stellar line-up of speakers including John Redwood MP, David Davis MP, Dan Hannan MEP, Syed Kamall MEP, Douglas Carswell MP, Nadine Dorries MP, Ruth Lea of Global Vision, Matthew Elliott of the Tax-Payer's Alliance, Iain Dale and a host of others.

It will take place as a series of events over two days (Monday/Tuesday Sept 29th/30th), in Austin Court, just outside the security area of the main Birmingham Conference. Breakfast will be served both days, and the auditorium will show relevant movies when not in use for meetings. Topics will include "Freedom Beyond the EU"; "What should be in the Conservatives' Euro-Manifesto?"; "Freedom from High Taxes"; "Freedom and the Internet"; plus whether the BBC should be funded by the licence fee; freedom from political correctness; free thinking on climate change; paternalism and the Nanny State; breaking free from the broken society, and a host of others.

This is going to be an influential series of events which will focus minds on the cause of freedom in all its aspects. Don't miss it. See the full timetable.

Website of the week: America in the World

This new website set up by Tim Montgomerie -- editor of ConservativeHome.com -- is well worth a visit. It serves as a much-needed antidote to all the anti-Americanism in the UK at the moment, reminding us that America, despite all its faults, is still the last best guarantor of freedom and democracy in the world. God Bless America!

How to lose a war

Barack Obama says he will change the mission of the US Military in Iraq. Their new objective will be, not to win the war, but to end the war. Now I don't pretend to be an expert on military strategy, but it seems sufficiently clear to me that if your objective is victory, then you have at least a chance of winning. But if your objective, declared in advance, is simply to end the war, you guarantee defeat. Equally, his naive commitment to remove US troops from Iraq on a pre-determined and public time-scale is a declaration of failure. All the enemy need do is wait.

I should certainly sleep easier with John McCain in the White House.

Freedom under threat in Georgia

Let's be clear about it: what the Russians have been doing in Georgia is perhaps the greatest threat to Freedom since the end of the cold war. Indeed it could mark the resumption of the Cold War. A large, powerful and undemocratic country has invaded a small and democratic neighbour, without even the flimsy excuse of a UN Resolution.

Ironically, it is forty years almost to the day since the Soviet tanks rolled into (then) Czechoslovakia to quell the "Prague Spring", in another great assault on Freedom and Democracy. We had thought that that sort of behaviour was consigned to history. It is not. And their excuse, of protecting Russian nationals in Georgia, has sinister echoes of Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Chamberlain described Czechoslovakia as "a far-away country of which we know little", which would also be a fair description of Georgia today. But we found in 1939 that the invasion of a little-known and distant country can have far-reaching consequences.

Where does Russia stop? It could use exactly the same excuse in a host of countries with Russian minorities. In the Baltics (there has been trouble in Tallinn, Estonia over the re-location of a Russian war memorial), in Poland, in Ukraine. Especially Ukraine. And Russian lies and duplicity are breathtaking. They sign a cease-fire that requires them to withdraw. But they don't withdraw. They say they will leave, but they keep digging in. And in any case, Sarkozy's peace treaty effectively allows Russia to stay in South Ossetia and Abkhazia indefinitely, with "Peace-Keepers".

So what's to be done? All my instincts are that we should do everything we can to come to the aid of Georgia (which, with some justification, feels badly let down by the West). But let's be realistic. We can't actually issue a military ultimatum to Russia. First, because electors in Britain -- and in Europe and in the USA -- don't have the stomach for another war. Second, because with the US and the British military stretched tight as a drum in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can't credibly back up any threat (a point that will not have escaped the Kremlin). And third, because in strategic and logistical terms, the West would start out at a huge disadvantage to Russia in any conflict in Georgia. Geography forbids.

What we should certainly do at least is to withdraw cooperation from Russia in international forums. They should be excluded from the G8 and the WTO. We should ask the IOC to reconsider the 2014 Winter Olympics currently scheduled for Sochi in Russia, and if the IOC will not do so, the West should boycott the games. We should set down some very clear red lines with regard to other countries, both within the EU (Baltics, Poland) and outside (Ukraine).

And one other thing. I have been banging on for some time about energy security, and the need to reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels. This is a wake-up call. We should redouble our efforts, especially on coal and nuclear generation.

The politics of Russia's invasion

Georgia was (and remains) keen to join NATO. Arguably it was the reluctance of some EU countries to press ahead with Georgia's NATO membership that emboldened the Russians to invade. Fearing to offend the Russian bear, we simply made him aware of our weakness and his strength. And the response of the West to the invasion was strangely muted. Uncharacteristically, US President George Bush initially gave a half-hearted response, taking several days to say the right things. Barack Obama, sunning himself in Hawaii, was even more dilatory. Only John McCain, to his credit, grasped the magnitude of the problem and responded commensurately. McCain's strong suit is foreign affairs, and this crisis will help his campaign.

Nicolas Sarkozy as President-in-Office of the EU rushed in and sought to broker a cease-fire. But as John Bolton pointed out in a Telegraph article, the EU all too often sees itself merely as a mediator, and not as an advocate for a small democratic country unjustly invaded by a big neighbour. And his deal was deeply flawed. It was not clear whether the promised Russian withdrawal included withdrawal from South Ossetia and Abkhazia (indeed it was clear to the Russians that it did not). They seem to be claiming a right to remain in an indefinite "Security Zone" beyond those two regions within Georgia, and to keep Russian "Peacekeepers" (read "armed forces") in Georgia as long as they like. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the cease-fire is that Russia doesn't seem to be observing the terms of the withdrawal, and there is no mechanism to make them do so.

Worst of all has been the supine response of our incredible disappearing Prime Minister, and his arch-enemy the Foreign Secretary. Battened down in his polyester jacket somewhere on the Suffolk coast, Brown had little or nothing to say. Unlike McCain, foreign policy is not Brown's strong suit, but surely he might have said something? We seem to have a government which has lost interest in governing.

Contrast that with the sure-footed response of David Cameron, who went to Tbilisi and met with the Georgian President and Prime Minister, and assured them of our support. Exactly the right response. We seem to have the Leader of the Opposition more and more fulfilling the role of Prime Minster, and speaking for Britain, while our real Prime Minister fades into the middle distance. Well done Dave.

Quote of the month: John O'Sullivan in the Telegraph:

"The EU Mission to Moscow led by Nicolas Sarkozy was bamboozled by the Russians into accepting a document with loopholes through which they drove tank battalions. The EU argument that pooling sovereignty leads to greater real power proved to be a sham -- it led in practice to collective impotence and self-deception".

From Brussels with "information"

From an amendment in the Constitutional Affairs Committee opposing a reduction in the budget-line for EU information campaigns (2009 vs 2008): "In view of the negative outcome of the Irish Referendum, and the ensuing need for major information campaigns on the benefits of EU policies and institutional reform, it is not appropriate to reduce the budget for the information outlets ....". For information, read "propaganda". Meantime Gerard Onesta (who organised the farcical "Agora" which I have written about previously) has called for "information campaigns in schools to teach children about the benefits of the EU".

"Boris v. Ken: How Boris Johnson won London"

My good friend Jonathan Isaby of The Daily Telegraph has written (with Giles Edwards) a history of the London mayoral campaign. Now I have a list of books I want to read as long as your arm, and the last thing I wanted was another one. So I'll be honest: I ordered a copy of Jonathan's book mainly so I could look him in the eye and say "Yes, Jonathan, I bought a copy of your book". But I took it with me on the plane to America, and I found it to be a thundering good read. The election was, after all, a cliff-hanger. When Boris set out, many people, including some in our own Party, thought his candidacy was a bit of a joke. But it was a vitally important election. Had Ken won, as he might well have done, it would have handed Labour a lifeline, despite all the tension between Ken and his Party.

In the end, the result provided a huge boost to the Conservatives. After more than a decade in the wilderness we -- and the country -- realised that we could win again. And contrary to some expectations, Boris has made a relatively sure-footed start to his work. So if you want an exciting and uplifting read, I recommend it. Published in paperback by Politico's for a very modest £9.99.

Hail the Olympians!

Boris caught the mood of the nation when he announced a London victory parade for our British Olympic Team. Their performance has been inspiring. And I was delighted to see that good old John Major (I can never forget that I sat on his selection committee in Huntingdon many years ago) is getting some of the credit, because without his Lottery initiative, the funding for top sports would not have been available, and the results would not have come through.

Despite the fact that I used to run marathons (never better than three hours thirty, I'm afraid), and to sail sail-boards, I'm afraid I'm a real old curmudgeon when it comes to sport. The only sporting event I'd have gone out of my way to see was the Waterloo Cup, and that ended with the wretched hunting ban. But to quote Lord Macaulay, even I "could scarce forbear to cheer" as the gold medals came through, and the Union Jack went up over the winners' podium. Well done those guys (and girls).

Blasphemy at the BBC

I was listening to a news report on the Olympics, which was looking forward to 2012 in London. Apparently British sport is facing a funding short-fall, as the private sector is not coming forward with the £100 million that was planned (though the 2008 results may prompt them). And the announcer on the Today Programme said (near as I can remember) "Apparently there is an additional fund-raising problem, and that's the credit crunch". And he added, in what must have been an unscripted aside, "There, you knew it was either climate change or the credit crunch, didn't you?". Shock horror! The BBC poking fun at Climate Change! Whatever next!

The Great Biofuels Con:

"Rarely in political history can there have been such a rapid and dramatic reversal of a received wisdom as we have seen in the past 18 months over biofuels". See Booker's fantastic article.

Global cooling in action!

A letter which appeared in The Telegraph on July 14th went as follows: "Sir - I am wondering if the Government will be giving pensioners financial help with heating costs this summer."

Does climate resonate with the public?

A recent Populus Poll published on Conservative Home breaks down the party's overall improvement in support by policy area. Overwhelmingly the Economy comes first, at +36%, with Tax & Spending at +21%, and housing at +17%. Europe lags in 5th position at +11%. And climate? The hot issue into which we've sunk so much effort? It's down in 9th position, at a mere 6%. Of course most people think we should "do something" about climate, until they realise that it means £1000 extra on a new car, or £100 extra on the family holiday. And at a time when we're facing exceptional inflation on both food and energy, the public are starting to understand that climate policies, biofuel targets and carbon taxes are helping to drive up prices. In the middle of an exceptionally cold summer, global warming is the least of their worries.

National Trust Buildings at risk

John Bowis MEP (London), not the most euro-sceptic of our colleagues, is alarmed by EU proposals to ban Dichloromethane, a chemical mainly used in paint strippers.

The ban would dramatically hinder the capacity of British heritage sites to carry out repair work as those working on ancient monuments argue that the alternative gels are largely ineffective, particularly in hot or cold weather.

John says: "Our ancient buildings could be threatened by the Commission's proposal to ban the protective chemical used in paint stripping". And I suspect he's right. Will Brussels respond, and protect Britain's country houses? Don't hold your breath.

The Great Global Warming Swindle

Green activists who attacked the Channel 4/WAG TV programme The Great Global Warming Swindle, have had their comeuppance. Ofcom has concluded that the minor factual inaccuracies in the programme were few and insignificant, and were immediately corrected for the second transmission of the film.

Martin Durkin, programme director, responded to the Ofcom judgment as follows: "The little Green devils have done their best to use Ofcom to shut me up. But it hasn't worked. And to add to their woes, world temperature has been static or falling for a decade now. I don't remember their wonderful models predicting that ten years ago."

It's worth noting that Ofcom's findings contrast neatly with the damning court ruling which found numerous and fundamental inaccuracies in Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth?

Dave's political joke

Asked what was his favourite political joke, David Cameron apparently replied "At the moment, Nick Clegg". Cruel, but understandable. I knew Nick quite well as an MEP in the 99/04 parliament. He is a likeable guy, and apart from his obsession with the EU, quite sensible. But he has made very little impression as leader of the Lib-Dems. Let's hope he keeps it up.

A word from the Vicar

The Rev Dr Peter Mullen is Rector of St Michael's, Cornhill and Chaplain to the Stock Exchange. He is also Honorary Chaplain to The Freedom Association. He has a traditionalist view of Church affairs (which I am inclined to share). He concluded a recent sermon with these words:

"For the first time in thirty-eight years as a priest, I am dejected. The bishops who were appointed to care for us have abandoned us. I look out over the Church I have loved for a lifetime, and now I see only darkness visible. But yet there is our God. We must stay and fight our corner, content to be the Church in this particular place. We must continue to preach and teach the true faith in all its glorious fullness – not the dumbed-down prejudices of a trendy sect. We take strength from the Sacraments and from our fellowship together in this place. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. Give me your help and companionship. And may God bless us all."


That's it for this Strasbourg/Brussels session. But being September, look forward to a second helping. We have to make up for not coming in August if we want to make up our statutory twelve sessions a year. Please remember to check this website for more background on current parliamentary business, details of proposals being voted at the Strasbourg plenary session, and a host of other issues.