Monthly newsletter Edition 14 Sir Robert reports:- Page 1
The Leadership question is being discussed by your Tory MEPs just as much as in the Constituencies and with as many different views. There is a broad consensus (a) that the Party should take its time to think through the issues and personalities and (b) that we should tolerate a broader range of viewpoints on the Front Bench. The Delegation is unanimous however that Tory MEPs should be able to exercise the same voting rights as MPs in the election of the Party Leader - for a number of reasons:
1. 493 Constituency Associations have no Tory MP (67 in the NW) but are all represented by a Tory MEP.
2. MEPs are elected nationally, like MPs, and should be entitled to the same rights as their Westminster colleagues.
3. The Delegation provides substantial support and encouragement in a wide variety of ways to its Regional Constituencies.
4. Labour and Ulster Unionist MEPs already have those rights in their respective Party Leadership Elections.
We believe also that the Board of the Party should conduct the Election - rather than the 1922 Committee - and that the entire Party Membership should be able to vote on all and any of the Candidates. These views have been put strongly to the Board and we intend to table a suitable Amendment to the Rules for future Leadership Elections.
I have received over 200 returns in my Straw Poll amongst Constituency Officers and Councillors, and whilst there is still a trickle of ballots coming in, the results are as follows:-
Ancram 33 Clarke 102 Davis 28 Duncan Smith 22 Portillo 26.
The clear message is there for all to see, namely that MPs should heed the views of North West Constituencies and ensure that Ken Clarke's name is on the final ballot paper.
I had a further meeting in Strasbourg with the Senior Vice President of the NFU about the continuing problems of Foot & Mouth in the North West. Since the Election, public attention has wandered and the Cumbria & Lancashire outbreaks are being forgotten. There are serious delays in compensation payments, tourism in the rural areas is still suffering and all those affected are struggling to cope. To date, I have written over 1,500 personal letters of support to North West farmers and have been very moved by the many replies and the simple statements of distress. We must continue to look to their futures. To that end, I raised the case of Cumbria in my Committee recently, in the particular context of possible special assistance from EU Structural Funds. There has been an unspent surplus of many millions of pounds in these funds and it would be a great help to the County if we could persuade the Government to make application, and to fight for, an extra share for an area in need.