Newsletter Edition 27Regional Hypocrisy
Constant change - most of it unnecessary - seems to be the order of the day for our Labour Government at present. In particular, we had John Prescott announcing his half-baked proposals for Regional Assembly Referenda in various parts of Britain, including the North-West. Not only is an Assembly not needed, wanted or necessary but the inconsistency of holding a referendum on this ill-conceived policy at the same time as refusing to allow the people a vote on the far-reaching implications of the European Convention and its proposed Constitution, seems to me to be rank hypocrisy.
Conservatives are not opposed to a strong North West regional voice - quite the reverse, in fact - but we are conspicuously unimpressed with the extra bureaucracy, superfluous paperwork, increased costs, administrative interference, abolition of the shire counties and jobs for the Labour boys that equate to the Deputy Prime Minister's irrelevant regional policy. We will offer strong Conservative alternative proposals and will work with the growing number of our usual political opponents and non-political organisations, who are also opposed to a Regional Assembly, in a cross-party alliance to defeat this threat.
The first casualty of the above has been the withdrawal by the Boundary Commission of its recently completed proposals for new County Wards in Lancashire. This important but lengthy process will now be shelved indefinitely because Prescott wants to abolish the County Council and alter its District Councils beyond all recognition. Does the Government not understand that there is no public appetite for this change and that the status quo is broadly acceptable?
GM foods and their labelling has been a controversial topic during the recent Parliamentary session and feelings amongst MEPs and our constituents are running high. As I have indicated in the past, I am in favour of genetic modification - a process that has been going on for centuries - but I do recognise the demand for labelling. However, it is very difficult to label foods accurately as it is impossible to be absolutely certain as to the origin of every ingredient in the product. So generalities rather than specific itemisation will have to prevail and that will not provide the information that some people demand.
Gold-Plating on Health Supplements
Another area causing consternation is that of vitamins and health supplements. There is a new Directive in place to formalise the information that is made available about this huge market and I am entirely in favour of that as a measurable contribution to safety. But it appears that the Health Police of Britain's Labour nanny-state are determined to go several steps further in banning certain items. As a regular user of Selenium, I could find my usage curtailed if the Government has its way, and many other "habitu's" will be in the same position. All because the demand for expensive and complicated testing that will result from Government legislation will make production totally unprofitable for the manufacturers.
The Centre Right Group in the Parliament had its biannual Policy Meeting recently, this time in Copenhagen. A delightful and fascinating city, where there is no Euro but still the Danish Kroner. You need a lot of them, however, since it is arguably the most expensive country in the European Union e.g. 1 1/2 litres of beer for Dulcie and myself - £13! Most of our discussions revolved around the European Convention proposals and how we as Conservatives should deal with the implications. Many of them are far-reaching - not all of them bad, by any means - but certainly meriting careful consideration at Westminster. And, of course, then a public debate and consultation followed by a referendum.
Tory MEPs are presently going through a series of meetings and discussions with the "Observer MEPs" of the ten applicant States due to become full members of the EU after the June 2004 Elections. Many of them learnt about political freedom, the free market and Conservatism through illicit listening to the BBC World Service and covert perusal of Western newspapers and websites. They speak reverently of Margaret Thatcher and are keen to follow many of her objectives in their newly-democratic countries. Certainly, the Centre-Right members from Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic share the Tory outlook on European matters - "Euro-Realists" is how they invariably style themselves - and we have high hopes of forming effective alliances with them in the future.
Political Party Funding
There has been a recent attempt to lay down guidelines for the funding of European political parties and, whilst in principle this sounds a good wheeze, we have some worries. The great and the good in Europe want to exclude the undemocratic, the racist, the fascist - fair enough - but also those who do not believe in the European ideal (!) and are not trans-national parties i.e. only based in one country like the Conservative Party. We cannot accept this and are seeking to amend the proposals. It will not prevent the Party's existence but it may damage our ability to raise financial resources.
Benvenuto Signor Berlusconi!
Something of a storm in a teacup over Signor Berlusconi and his address to Parliament. He was treated rudely and disgracefully by some left-wing and green MEPs and eventually over-reacted. It was certainly a misjudgement but then the Italian Prime Minister is not a subservient characterless man! This was more a case of Latin excitability confronting Teutonic humourlessness than a really serious incident but there are other potential problems. Given the long-standing antipathy between him and Romano Prodi, the former Socialist Prime Minister of Italy and now President of the European Commission, the sparks could fly between now and Christmas, which will make for great spectator sport if not the stable management of EU affairs!
What a load of Cockles!
Yet another niche industry in Britain is threatened with collapse, as a direct result of the British bureaucratic obsession with making EU Directives fiercer in the UK than was ever intended in Brussels. The cockle-processing industry, represented by Kershaw's of Southport in the North-West, is rightly required to test its products for potential diseases that can harm humans. Continental producers use one test in the Directive whereas the Food Standards Authority insists upon a scientifically discredited but harsher option. And the predictable result? Kershaw's and other British-based companies process less cockles at a higher price, lose their markets and, locally, have been forced to sack 24 employees. And who mops up in the market place? Why of course the continental producer! So next time you sample a cockle, do not be surprised if it has not come from Kershaw's of Southport - and blame the Government's refusal to defend home-grown industries.