Newsletter Edition 39
Special Conference Newsletter
Parliament returned at the end of August - not for us the long recess given to MPs! - and we were straight into the business of the British Presidency. You may recall my mention in July of Blair's effective speech, inaugurating his Government's six-month term in charge of the European Union. I warned then about the difference between talking and doing and so it has proved. The general consensus across the political spectrum is that nothing is happening. Now, as Conservatives, we might find that option attractive in some European respects but sadly, there are things that need urgent action and the Labour Government is wasting time and credibility. For example, Blair promised reform - long, long overdue - of the Common Agricultural Budget. Progress? - none. Blair promised reform of the overall Budget and rationalisation of EU finances. Progress? - none. Blair promised urgent implementation of the Services Directive (freeing up the delivery of goods and services to the consumer) Progress? - none. The British Labour "leadership" that we were promised has failed to materialise. Are we surprised? I think not.
Another "spin merchant" was in Strasbourg last week, (Ex)?-Chancellor Schroder of Germany. He was strutting around in defiance of the General Election result in his country which, albeit close, was clearly won by Mrs. Angela Merkel. My German Parliamentary Colleagues view their Socialist Chancellor rather as we Conservatives do Mr Blair - all mouth and trousers and no delivery - so they were unimpressed by his self-important behaviour. However, it will be a difficult and unproductive time for the Federal Republic if a Grand Coalition of the CDU and SDP takes control and I suspect that there will have to be new elections sooner rather than later.
Poland has also had a recent General Election, resulting in a splendid win for what will be a Centre-Right coalition. The Law and Justice Party, combined with Civic Platform, achieved just over 50% and the Government Party dropped from 41% to 11% - a real poke in the eye for the former Communist fellow-travellers! The new Government will be much more Atlanticist and in favour of structural and financial reform of the EU, so should be strong supporters of the Conservative approach in the European Parliament.
The first and most important item on my agenda upon my return was the 25,000+ Petition on behalf of Equitable Life Assurance policy holders, who made an impressive and persuasive case for action against the company by the European Commission. So far-reaching are the implications for pensioners in the UK, Germany and Ireland that I pressed for a Special Investigative Sub-Committee to be established - with a deadline of three months - to call for persons and papers and to produce advice on which the Petitions Committee can make a recommendation to Parliament.
So we are faced again with a choice of leadership Candidates presented to us by our MPs. This could pose some difficulties. What if MPs decide to exclude Ken Clarke from the ballot presented to Party members? Bearing in mind the hostile views of the membership about MPs "controlling" the leadership vote, what will a substantial proportion have to say if Clarke is not there as a Candidate? The general public, who favour him by a factor of four to one, and the 25-35 year olds who are twice as likely to vote Tory if he is leader, will write us off as unrepresentative and out of touch.
And what of David Cameron? I had expressed a view, before Ken Clarke's re-emergence, that a fresh face with experienced support could offer a way forward. I still believe that a combination of Clarke/Cameron or Cameron/Clarke could prove a devastating combination against Blair or Brown and their respective cronies.
Apart from a brief holiday, I used a good part of my Recess in getting round the region. I visited various companies, spoke to some Associations, was lobbied on environmental matters, attended agricultural shows and generally "took the political temperature." It is quite clear that there is little love for our beloved Government and scant respect for the Liberal Party and views about our Party at national level were mostly ridicule! But there is considerable respect - sometimes even affection (!) - for hard-working Conservative Councillors. Throughout the length and breadth of the North West, many of you are beavering away to protect your areas and do the best for your local taxpayers - and it is noticed. You all deserve our thanks for presenting a competent and caring image of the Conservative Party - at least at local level - and doing so in increasing numbers.
A small group of newly-elected Tory MPs came to Brussels recently and I was astonished at how little they knew about the activities of their MEPs and how the European Parliament worked. By their own admittance, they went home with a greater understanding of our Parliament and a firm determination to liaise more closely. Accordingly, we have now instigated a programme of regular visits - for new and experienced MPs - and hope that the result will be a more informed and united team to take on our dreadful Labour Government.