Newsletter Edition 32Madrid Massacre
I cannot publish this Newsletter without recording my horror at the atrocity in Spain and to express sympathy, condolence and, above all, my desire to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Spanish people in their determination not to let this vile act destroy their faith in democracy. I know that you will all agree.
Conservative Spring Conference:
I paid a brief visit to the Conservative Spring Conference in Harrogate last weekend and what an improvement on last year! In 2003 there were 300 delegates, this time 1500. Morale is very high and expectations of the June Elections very good, yet all tempered by the knowledge that there is a very long way to go in changing public perceptions of the Tory party. But a realisation also that we now pose a daunting threat to Labour's re-election.
There have been some interesting electoral results in various parts of the EU - namely Greece and Hamburg. The former had a General Election, which was won by the Conservatives - for the first time for many years - and the longstanding Socialist control of the City/State of Hamburg was smashed by the CDU with a 20% swing! All this bodes well for the European Parliamentary elections in June when we need to establish a substantial centre-right group, possibly even an outright majority for the first time ever.
It is a pity about the Spanish General Election. I do understand the people's grief but I believe that by voting against the Conservative Government, the Spanish have allowed al-Qaeda to win.
We have done very well too in local by-elections in the region. I helped a little in Heysham South last week, which was uncontested last time by us, and which we won this time with a majority of 6 over Labour! (499/493).
Sir Robert Atkins MEP with Ken Brown & Cllr James Airey at the Heysham South By-Election, which Ken won with 499 votes, a majority of 6 over Labour.
Labour kick out overtime:
Labour MEPs have done it again - voting against both their own government and the best interests of Britain. I refer to the longstanding British opt-out from the provisions of the Working Time Directive, which puts a restrictive limit on normal working hours throughout the EU. The UK has always operated in an entirely different manner to the Continent, in that we are used to a considerable amount of overtime in the industrial process. This is much rarer in the rest of Europe so we obtained permission to carry on as usual - the opt out. When a proposal was made to abolish this leeway, the Government resisted it in the Council of Ministers and expected their MEPs to follow suit. Fat chance! Labour MEPs, including our own North West variety, voted to remove the British opt-out, to the horror of industry leaders, small businesses and many others - let alone their own Government. So when your overtime potential is greatly reduced or abolished, you know where to lay the blame.
Referendum on the EU Constitution:
I helped man a stall in my home town of Garstang recently, to obtain signatures for our petition demanding a referendum on the proposed new European Constitution. You know the one - "just a little tidying-up process" says Tony Blair - but which actually effects radical changes to the whole basis upon which the EU is structured and operates. I was astonished at how many local residents wanted to sign, even queuing up to do so, and their political views ranged across the complete spectrum. Conservatives seem to have struck a chord here with the British people and Blair ignores this rising tide of anger at his dismissal of a referendum, at his peril. Please click here
The petition for a Referendum on the European Constitution
The Industry Committee has had a preliminary canter around the course of Chemicals "reform", as promulgated by Commissioner Wallstrom. MEPs from the Centre-Right, together with some from the Socialist Group, are determined that the potentially detrimental effects of this proposal will require a detailed examination after the European Elections. The Green/Liberal/Communist protagonists are trying very hard to get it onto the Statute Book before June, so there is a deal of Tory filibustering going on in the various Committees to prevent such an outcome.
As a regular user of airports throughout the EU, I experience the varying levels of security screening carried out by airport employees. I am not alone in being puzzled and somewhat irritated by the inconsistencies in attitude - some of it very silly. For example, at Charles de Gaulle in Paris recently they tried to confiscate a 1.5" plastic toothpick ("I could attack the pilot"!) and the key to my Strasbourg office ("It is pointed and dangerous"!) Yet, they were quite content to allow my ball point pen (long, slim and pointed) and a bottle of brandy (which could be smashed and used as a weapon or incendiary device). I have had similar nonsensical confrontations at other airports, as have many of my colleagues and fellow travellers. Everyone understands the need for on-board security, particularly at the moment, but there must be a much more logical and sensible interpretation of what really is dangerous and what is wholly irrelevant. I am pursuing the matter with the Commission and British Ministers.
The debate about John Prescott's gerrymandering proposals for regional government is beginning to hot up. The "No" Campaign is well into operation now, with a website (http://www.northwestsaysno.org.uk/), active participation in media coverage and a leaflet about to be published. Volunteers are coming forward but we always need more, so if you are interested in stopping this absurd and unwanted nonsense (whatever your political persuasion), please contact the Campaign Headquarters.
Prescott at it again!
Yet more political fiddling by the Deputy Prime Minister in his attempts to introduce complete postal voting in the North West (and other parts of the UK), in the face of opposition from the independent Electoral Commission and every other political party - even "The Guardian"! Thankfully an alliance of Conservative, Liberal and Cross-Bench Peers voted it down in the House of Lords and are likely to do so again if Prescott tries to force it through. It is iniquitous that he uses the specious excuse of "encouraging higher voter turnout" when, at the same time, he is abolishing the Declaration of Identity provision that is so vitally necessary to prevent electoral fraud. Changes to election law must be effected with all-party discussion and support, so Prescott's behaviour is nothing short of a constitutional outrage and it has to be stopped.
Enlargement of the EU takes place officially on May 1st, when ten new countries become Members. Already there are extra interpretation facilities being built in every committee room and extra seats for the increase in MEPs. The Committee structure is also due for change so that there are more but with a smaller membership, and they will be targeted more carefully at the issues, Commissioners and controversies that matter to Member States. That at least is the plan! Tory MEPs, both before and after the elections, will be watching closely to identify increased interference, more bureaucracy and less efficiency and then seek to stifle it at birth. Yet another reason for electing more Conservative MEPs in June.
Conservatives European Alliance:
After much consultation, a decision has been made by Michael Howard about party alliances for the Conservative European Group in the next Parliament. The substantial majority of Tory MEPs wish to stay within the umbrella coalition of the Centre-Right (The European Peoples Party/European Democrats) on terms which allow us to speak our minds and vote on Conservative principles, wherever and whenever we choose. This allows us to maintain our political independence whilst at the same time - and more often than not - voting with the EPP-ED against our opponents in the Socialist/Liberal/Green etc blocs. It is an ideal solution and one that offers the real possibility of an outright centre-right majority in the next Parliament.