Newsletter Edition 34
At last I have the chance to summarise the past few months following the European Elections. What with the Parliamentary Recess, a much-needed holiday, the Party Conference and a myriad of other commitments, the time has flown since last I wrote to you. So on with the motley and away we go!
Let me first put on record again my heartfelt thanks to all involved in helping during the campaign and to record my appreciation of the years of unstinting service from Lord Inglewood and Jacqueline Foster. They are both greatly missed in Parliament.
I have been elected to the Deputy Leadership of the British Conservative Group, following the retirement of the previous incumbent and, although it is finishing off his term until December, I have hopes of re-election then! The Leader, Jonathan Evans, will be standing down and there are number of candidates to replace him - of whom I will NOT be one. All the more important, I believe, to maintain a degree of continuity as the Deputy. It is a great honour to fulfil this role and is something of a tribute to the North-West. I suppose that I should record that both the Labour and Liberal Leaders also represent our region!
Enlargement and ten new Members of the European Union brings with it an influx of new MEPs, larger committees, more interpreters and less speaking time. All the more reason then that British membership of the influential Committees is cleverly managed - and we have done just that. The key person on each Committee is the Co-ordinator of the largest Group, since it is he/she who manages the business, controls the agenda and calls the votes. There are 21 Committees of the Parliament and British Tories have six of the Co-ordinatorships, which is a huge achievement and a measure of the commitment and influence of Conservative MEPs within the Parliament. Additionally, Tory MEPs lead the USA and Australia Delegations, provide Vice-Presidencies of the Parliament & the EPP-ED Group and the Chairmanships of the Industry Committee and the College of Quaestors (Parliament's Management Body). All in all, we punch well above our political weight (28 out of 732) - in the interests of Britain, of course.
I am one of those Co-ordinators on the much under-rated Petitions Committee. Whilst not making or breaking policy as do many of the others, this Committee is in regular and daily contact with electors throughout the EU. A constant stream of petitions from individuals, as well as large community, environmental or corporate organisations, beats a path to our door with complaints about the issues of the day and we have to rule on them and demand answers from Commissioners and Ministers. There is more politics per square inch here than any other Committee that I have visited and I am enjoying it immensely! I sit also as a full Member of the Transport & Tourism Committee and, as a substitute, on Environment, although a timetable clash often confines my attendance to only one of my allocation. Much to my pleasure, I have been invited to serve as a full Member of one of the most senior EP Delegations, namely China. A great deal to learn there!
The first task confronting MEPs after the Parliamentary Recess has been grilling the Commissioners-elect. Each Committee has heard from the relevant Candidate, questioned them thoroughly and tried to indicate support or dissent. Reports emanating from the Trade Committee suggest that, whilst Peter Mandelson was bright, charming and capable, he was very unsound on Britain's Contribution Rebate. Sadly, Parliament does not yet have the power to vote against individual Commissioners but only the ability to agree or disagree with the whole lot. We simply must change this ridiculous process but that is easier said than done.
By the time of the next Newsletter, Commissioner Chris Patten will have retired and I cannot let this event pass without recording my respect and admiration for a very old friend who, yet again, has done a sterling job for Britain and Europe.
The Commissioner Addressing Parliament
Heated discussion too about the application by Turkey to join the Union. She has gone a very long way in dealing with the legitimate concerns about her commitment to democracy, human rights record and attitude to women. But there is still a long way to go in persuading real sceptics, particularly in Germany and Austria, that this ancient, Muslim country should be within the EU. I am in favour but there are many who are not.
The Party Conference was much better than I had anticipated, with Michael Howard coming across as a serious and compassionate contender for the Premier's job. I still think, however, that the real threat to us at the General Election comes from the Liberal Party rather than UKIP and I was, therefore, somewhat disturbed by the Party Spokesmen's obsession with "Europe" at the expense of dealing with the Liberals head on. Elections are never won by pandering to the extremes of right or left but only by campaigning in the middle ground for the floating vote.
We spent our holiday this year in one of the most peripheral regions in the EU - the Isles of Scilly - and whilst I won't bore you with all the holiday snaps, it was instructive to be in an area far from the madding crowd which, at the same time, values very highly indeed the financial contribution from Brussels to their (and Cornwall's) Objective One status. There are many projects and programmes in operation in the Islands, largely relating to environmental, fishing and tourism matters, and it was a real pleasure to hear praise for the EU rather than the usual knee-jerk, media-inspired hostility.
The extreme west of England!
This being the first proper communication since June, can I please ask any recipient who knows of a Tory Councillor or Association Officer who has not received this to notify Dulcie in Lancashire or Oliver Jack in Brussels.
PLEASE NOTE MY CHANGE OF E-MAIL ADDRESS
The old one will be unavailable in the very near future!!!!