Monthly newsletter Edition 25 Sir Robert reports:- Page 1

Welcome to 2003 and good wishes for a prosperous and electorally successful year. First and foremost, I would like to thank those members who came to one of the three selection meetings in November, for their support. After three years unremitting hard work, I am pleased and privileged to serve the Party at any level. I shall continue to speak up for the North West and to offer support to Constituencies and Councils whenever and wherever appropriate.

The debate on Regional Government is now well under way - thanks to Prescott's ridiculous Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill, at present in Committee in the House of Commons. And NW Conservatives are not standing still. Following the NWR Assembly Meeting earlier this month, the ad-hoc Strategy Group that I initiated last year met to discuss tactics. Comprising Cllr. Les Byrom (Sefton) and CC Paul Findlow (Cheshire) - Leader and Deputy Leader of the NWRA Tory Group - Geoff Knowles (Party Regional Chairman), Lord Inglewood MEP (House of Lords), Michael Jack MP (House of Commons), and me (EP), we came up with some preliminary suggestions for action. These will be conveyed to our membership by letter and Councillors will hear through their Groups. We are determined to be positive about a strong regional voice but wholly hostile to Labour's proposals and the supposed need for a referendum. This could be a crucial vote-winning issue for the Conservative Party and we need all Associations and elected Representatives to be involved.

The NWRA meeting which preceded the above discussion was as farcical as ever. Almost all the sensible non-politicians have ceased to be involved - CBI, IOD and Federation of Small Businesses - so the Labour/Liberal block vote rules supreme. The budget (increased of course!) was barely discussed, there being no relevant papers available, and reports on the growing bureaucracy flowered like weeds. There was a predictable "debate" on Prescott's proposals, with the Chairman, through gritted teeth, "allowing" me to speak. Needless to report, that as soon as I was heard to be critical he tried to shut me up. Such is freedom of speech under New Labour! What was of interest - and some concern - was a presentation by the Electoral Commission's Boundaries Committee on how it intends to abolish any and all two-tiered local government, i.e. County Councils, and substitute large, faceless Metropolitan-style authorities. Despite the Committee's traditional independence of politicians, this is all being done at the behest of the Deputy PM and in answer to a question from me, and I quote, "if public opinion, no matter how large, is opposed to the Boundary proposals then it will simply be ignored". Such is democracy as well under New Labour!

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