Newsletter Edition 33Tony Blair gives in to Tory pressure on the EU Referendum
What a splendid headline! The British public's overwhelming desire to be consulted on these fundamental constitutional changes has been met and I am especially grateful to so many Constituents - regardless of political persuasion - who signed petitions, sent letters and postcards, demonstrated and generally made a fuss in order to demand that Tony Blair listen to the British people and let them have a say. It is your victory. The Prime Minister has executed a U-turn of monumental proportions, as a direct result of a successful Conservative campaign led so effectively by Michael Howard. "No need whatsoever for a referendum" quoth the PM "it's just a little tidying-up exercise." Now it is serious enough to merit a Cabinet volte-face and serious enough to put to the country. Can we ever believe a word this man says?
10 New Members
Next month is the last session and, at the same time, the first of a new era. On May 1st the enlargement of the European Union becomes official and MEPs vote on that day to formalise the agreements and to welcome the new Member States - Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovak Republic and Slovenia - taking our number up to 25. There will be no other votes and very little business so, afterwards, the decks will be cleared in Strasbourg and in Brussels for the elections on June 10th.
Fix, Fiddle & Fraud (Part 1)
...unless, of course, you live in North East England, the East Midlands, Yorkshire & Humberside and our own region of the North West, when the ballots will go out on May 25th. In the teeth of united opposition from the independent Electoral Commission and every non-Labour peer in the House of Lords, Prescott has forced through total postal voting for those regions, not just for the European Elections but also local councils. It is a fix, a fiddle and a fraud - wholly in line with the determination of this Government to trash the conventional constitutional arrangements that have served us well for many years. Fortunately, their Lordships insisted that the Declaration of Identity be kept, thus obviating the biggest opportunity for vote-rigging. Even the Deputy Prime Minister realised that his objective of abolition was a step too far.
Fix, Fiddle & Fraud (Part 2)
And, incredibly, there are rumours flying around that Prescott is so fearful of losing a referendum on the North West Regional Assembly, due to take place in October, that he is going to postpone it to "a more favourable time." Are there no limits to Labour's attempts to rig every electoral test so that their party fiddles a "victory"?
I visited BNFL Sellafield last week, in the company of Lawrence Robertson MP, the Tory Energy Spokesman. It was a chance for the Commons Front Bench Shadow to see the operation for himself and for us both to be brought up to date on issues affecting the nuclear industry. Laurence made it quite clear, in a timely press release, that he was strongly supportive of the vital contribution made by BNFL, both in the North West and also, strategically, throughout the rest of the country. I reiterated my determination to resist the short-sighted and ill-informed hostility often found amongst certain Green/Liberal MEPs and to ensure a productive future for this important regional company.
Similarly, I was at British Aerospace, Warton, recently to be briefed on current developments, this time in the company of two Labour MEPs and another Conservative MEP. It was made crystal clear to us, by Management and Trade Unions, that the single most essential Government decision - which is long overdue - relates to Tranche 2 (the next batch) of Eurofighter "Typhoons" for the RAF. I know that my colleague Michael Jack MP (Fylde) has been at the forefront of pressing Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, into signing on the dotted line, for the benefit of both our armed forces and his Constituents. But so far, without success. We shall do what we can to press the cause in the European Parliament.
The Fylde Flyer!
Whilst writing of Michael Jack MP, I would like to offer my congratulations to him for his sterling efforts in the London Marathon. He clocked in under four hours and raised well over £7,000 for his charity, the National Osteoporosis Society. Not bad for a 57 year old and an achievement that this 58 year old can only admire rather than emulate!
Elections in the offing!
This week is the penultimate Parliamentary Session in Strasbourg before the European Elections and everyone is jockeying for position, whether in the Chamber, the media, the constituency or for life after Parliament. Add to that, the inevitable wheeling and dealing that is going on for jobs in the next Parliament and the presence of more journalists in one week than I have seen in five years and you have a recipe for division, deceit and downright chicanery. All the stuff of politics, I suppose, and no one reading this will be the least bit surprised!
Preliminary hearings have commenced into the suitability of the new Member States' nominees for Commissioners and some of their CV's are real eye-openers. Those from the former Eastern Bloc were educated in Communist schools, going to Communist universities and/or Workers Development Organisations. If they were lucky and a little younger, then "glasnost" allowed them to travel abroad for a belated Western education in Britain, the USA, France etc. But the over-riding fact is that these Commissioners-elect, and the people they represent, have moved from those dreadful beginnings into a society where freedom of speech, of movement, of religion, of earning capacity and of personal development are the natural order of things. And aren't they revelling in it!
The Budget Scandal
One of the big issues confronting the end of this Parliament is the discharge of the Budget - usually seriously-flawed, inaccurate, bureaucratic records of badly-controlled expenditure of taxpayers' money. Conservatives consistently criticise both the procedure and the substance, while Labour and Liberal MEPs and their respective Westminster masters, happily and uncritically sign off the accounts without drawing a second breath. We believe that individual Commissioners should be held responsible for their actions and, if necessary, sacked. The case at present is that Parliament can only sack the whole Commission or none at all - something Conservatives were instrumental in doing with the Santer Commission in 1999 - but it must change.
Reflections and Hopes
Thus this five year mandate draws to a close and I reflect on the time that I have served here on your behalf. I found it very different from the House of Commons, a real culture shock, but have come to realise that MEPs operate in a similar way to our colleagues at Westminster. We seek to redress the grievances and to represent the interests of our Constituents and to reign in, amend or prevent the excesses of the Commission and Council of Ministers. The European Parliament is here to stay, is growing in power and influence and is becoming a real force to reckon with. That is why it needs Conservative MEPs to help guide its development and control its actions. I have enjoyed my time here and hope to be re-elected so that I can continue to play a part in that process, never forgetting to put first the interests of Britain in general and the North West in particular.
*Good Luck to all Conservatives contesting the Elections*