Newsletter Edition 29

Leadership Changes

The events of the last few weeks have not been pleasant but they have been necessary. Already we have rediscovered the will to win and we are coalescing around Michael Howard as the undisputed leader of the party. He is a man of intellectual force, ministerial experience and considerable charm & humour; as well as being possessed of formidable debating skills and the killer instinct. He will be more than a match for Blair & Brown and can bring back those 'lost' Tories who left in droves in 1997 and 2001. I am very content to give him my firm support.

Pressure mounts on Lamy

The collapse of the World Trade Negotiations in Mexico last month has produced a flurry of activity in my committee, resulting in the summoning of Commissioner Lamy to explain the European position. I pressed him both privately and publicly to take the initiative in re-opening the talks, in the interests of developing countries as well as EU member states. Agricultural subsidies, particularly for American cotton, were at the root of the collapse, although we are not spotless in this matter due to the ridiculous inequities of the Common Agricultural Policy. The Commissioner, being French, was not altogether in agreement with my criticism of the CAP and was reluctant to take the lead in resolving some of what even he called the "mediaeval administrative processes" of the World Trade Organisation. So strongly do I feel about this potentially disastrous impasse that I even spoke at the Party Conference about it. Desperate measures indeed!

Sir Robert speaking at the Party Conference in Blackpool

European Enlargement

The Bureau (Management Committee) of the British Tory Delegation has been having fascinating and productive conversations with the 'observers' representing the ten soon-to-be-member states of the EU. Recently, we dined with the two centre-right Polish groups and, on another occasion the Hungarians and Latvians. Whilst not all being Conservative in the British sense, their general ethos was very much to our own way of thinking. Contrary to some media reports, we are not necessarily trying to leave the EPP-ED Group, of which we currently are Parliamentary members, but rather are attempting to bolster the ED (European Democrat) section which , unlike the EPP, is not Christian Democrat or Federalist.

Airing my frustrations!

The monthly trip to Strasbourg becomes even more difficult and time-consuming as Air France is about to change the connections so that many MEPs will arrive at Paris (Charles de Gaulle) and will then have to take a two hour drive around the Peripherique (Paris's M25) to fly onto Strasbourg from Orly Airport. That will make my journey nearly nine and a half hours long and even worse if you are coming from Oslo or Madeira! It is truly ludicrous, not to mention wasteful, that the taxpayer has to fork out ?100 million plus for the whole European Parliament and its support staff to make 12 trips per annum.

Shadow Cabinet visits to local industry During the recent Blackpool conference, I arranged for two visits by Shadow Ministers to prominent North West companies, Tim Yeo MP (Trade and Industry) to BAE Systems, Warton, and Lawrence Robertson MP (Energy) to BNFL Springfields. These allowed the companies to explain their domestic and European activities, as well as to lobby on issues important to jobs and profits in the future. BAE, for example, highlighted the need for an MoD order for the next tranche of Eurofighter "Typhoons" and BNFL drew particular attention to environmental liability legislation being considered by the European Parliament.

Sir Robert with Tim Yeo MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Trade & Industry) and Ben Wallace (Conservative PPC for Lancaster & Wyre) at the handover of Typhoon No 1 to the RAF (BAe Warton, October)

Lord Bethell retires

Sadly, one of our British Tory MEPs has been forced to resign from Parliament due to ill health. Nicholas (Lord) Bethell, representing London, has Parkinson's Disease and left our number on September 30th. He made such a name for himself in fighting for human rights in the former Warsaw Pact countries - notably smuggling to Britain and translating Solzhenitsyn's early novels - that he was awarded the Schumann Gold Medal for services to European Humanity before he left. He will be replaced by the former MP, Dr. Ian Twinn.

Lancashire Schools vs Ulster Schools

Some years ago, when I was a Northern Ireland Minister, I provided a Trophy for an annual rugby match between Lancashire and Ulster schools. Invariably I am prevented from seeing the game because of Parliamentary duties, it being played mid-week, but this year I was lucky. Three dozen or so young men giving their all for their teams at Fleetwood RUFC and then enjoying each others' company afterwards. Hopefully, friendships made across the water and across the political and religious divides will last for many years.

At the Lancashire Schools v Ulster Schools Rugby Presentation

Conservative MEPs speak their mind!

We have had a number of visits recently, both to Brussels and Strasbourg. The Executive Committee of the 1922 Committee came to hear our thoughts on the state of the Party, as did Michael Ancram MP. Tory MEPs spoke their mind, not least on the management of Central Office and links with the Palace of Westminster! And your North West Tory team was also delighted to welcome Association Members from Crewe & Nantwich and Chorley to see Parliament in action.
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