Newsletter Edition 35
The saga of the European Commission has at last been resolved. The flexing of Parliamentary muscles against the first offering of Commission President Barroso seemed to create a backlash amongst some MEPs, to the extent that the steam went out of more hostility. The result is a different Commission, a triumphant if intolerant centre-left and a puzzled electorate.
It started when Snr Buttiglione, the nominee of Italy's PM, Berlusconi, was honest? foolish? enough to express his strong Catholic views about homosexuality and women. Regardless of his abilities - which should be the only criteria for confirmation - the Socialists and Liberals were up in arms and paraded their politically-correct intolerance for all to see. This man had to go and anyone else with "dubious" views to boot. The centre-right took the opportunity to query the Latvian nominee, who was very weak indeed and whose Government had changed, and expressed serious doubts about the Hungarian nominee, whose Communist Secret Police background was not helped by a totally incompetent performance at the Committee.
However, although we are the largest group in Parliament, we do not have an overall majority and it was made clear to Sr. Barroso by the massed ranks of the centre-left that no more changes would be countenanced if the member states chose not to withdraw their nominees. Hungary did refuse, despite the President's entreaties and we are therefore landed with their nominee - Kovacs - again. He performed just adequately in the second hearing, without giving any expectation of a real grasp of taxation policy, and British Conservatives decided that this simply was not good enough. Accordingly we abstained - "objection to but not rejection of" the new Commission which, overall, is a very centre-right college. I am sorry to say that this whole episode has been a triumph for the bigotry and prejudice of Socialist and Liberal MEPs, who prate constantly at us about tolerance and fair play - unless, of course it interferes with their view of what should or should not be allowed. Sanctimonious hypocrisy and double standards of the very worst sort!
And then, to cap it all, the European Parliament Liberal Group Leader, Graham Watson, managed to face both ways at the same time. Having declared outright that he would vote for Snr Barroso's first commission, he then voted against in the plenary, issuing press releases at home and in Strasbourg justifying both positions. How thoroughly typical of a Liberal!
Some consolation has been the open fragmentation of the UKIP Parliamentary Group in front of our very eyes. One is on trial for fraud, UKIP whip withdrawn, Kilroy Silk has stormed off in a huff because he can't be leader, UKIP whip resigned, and two others have made such complete idiots of themselves by speeches and press releases that they have been shut up by what remains of the UKIP Group. 4 down, 8 to go!
There is considerable unhappiness amongst a majority of MEPs at the result of the US elections - myself included. I was no particular fan of Kerry and his team - quite the reverse, in fact - but my declared opposition to the Iraq War, my concerns about the need to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change (rejected by Bush) and a conspicuous failure by the present Administration to recognise the need for a fair and sensible settlement of the Israel/Palestine conflict, all combined to produce an anti-Bush sentiment. Luckily for the President I didn't have a vote!
The result of the referendum on regional government in the North East was a splendid victory for common sense and a real poke in the eye for John Prescott. And, most satisfyingly, it puts a full stop to such changes in the North West. It is the final nail in the coffin of the Deputy Prime Minister's ill-conceived policy of regional governments as well as the appalling prospect of gerrymandering "reform" of local council boundaries. All that remains is the wasteful bureaucratic shambles masquerading as the North West Regional Assembly. Prescott should do the decent thing by putting it out of its misery and then resigning.
Now we can concentrate on preparations for the County Council elections, with particular emphasis on winning Lancashire for the first time since 1981, consolidating our majority position in Cumbria and our firm control of Cheshire. I wish all success to aspiring Conservative County Councillors.
There have been one or two aviation congestion problems in our region over the past fortnight, indicative of increased pressures on aircraft and their operators. Firstly, two aeroplanes collided on the tarmac at Manchester Airport, thankfully only causing delay rather than injury and, secondly, Princess Anne's Royal Flight jet was involved in a "near miss" with a Eurofighter Typhoon over Morecambe Bay. I had a meeting recently with the Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority and was able to discuss these problems with him. We have a deserved first-class reputation for air traffic management in the UK and we must take every precaution to ensure that safety and security are maintained at the highest levels.
Two very pleasant visits recently, to the North West Branch of the Bow Group in Manchester and a splendid Halloween Lunch at Wrea Green on the Fylde. Everyone was in good heart and united in a determination to rid the country of Blair and his cronies at the General Election.