Newsletter Edition 43
It has been a week or two since my last newsletter but, then, the local election campaign intervened!
Although there is considerable room for improvement, we did pretty well in the North West. The highlight, undoubtedly, was the capture of Chorley but there were exceptional gains in some surprising places. Conservatives are the largest party in both Chester and Crewe & Nantwich and we also took serious wards in Bury, Bolton, Ellesmere Port and West Lancashire (Stop Press! Conservatives take control in Crewe & Nantwich!). The highlight for me was Ollie Flitcroft’s victory in the Risedale ward of Barrow. We made five gains there, forcing the Council from Labour to NOC but Ollie’s achievement in winning by just 10 votes, in a ward where we came a poor third last time and beating the Council Leader’s wife into the bargain, was very special - not least because he does all his campaigning in a wheelchair! To temper the pleasure, however, we made no gains in Manchester or Liverpool and it is an established fact that, without Parliamentary seats in the cities and some towns of the North West, we will not win a General Election. As David Cameron says: so far so good - but there is more work to be done.
Beef on the Menu!
Tory MEPs had a little barbeque last week in Strasbourg, using exported British Beef - the first opportunity since the ban was lifted. And we offered some to our French colleagues who had to admit that it was excellent. I think the point was well made! Incidentally, did you know that, for the first time in nearly seventy years, there is no full-time Minister of Agriculture, nor does the part-time incumbent, Lord Rooker, (a Northern Ireland Minister) sit in the Cabinet. What does that say about Labour’s concern for farmers and the countryside?
One of my constituents, Maurice Jones from Bolton, made use last month of the services of the Petitions Committee - on which I sit - as a last desperate act to draw public attention to the scandal of lost pensions resulting from company closures and the refusal of the British Government to do anything to help people such as him, impoverished through no fault of his own. He made his case well and I shall seek to persuade the Commission to bring pressure on British authorities to do what is necessary.
British Tory MEPs gave a small dinner recently in honour of Lord (Henry) Plumb who is, at the age of 81, retiring from all his European offices. A former President of the National Farmers’ Union, he led the then 60-strong group of Tory MEPs and became the first and - so far - only British President of the European Parliament. Since he left Parliament, he has served as Chairman of the Former Members’ Committee and, of course, still sits in the House of Lords. A truly remarkable, knowledgeable and convivial man.
I got into a little photographic difficulty a week or two back. I was trying to highlight the importance of registering the “origin name” of the esteemed Cumberland Sausage - a much-loved speciality in our region - and arranged for a frying-pan and a photographer. The result was well-meant but also provoked a number of caption competitions in both European and British newspapers. What I do for the North-West! But it has had the required effect and brought to the notice of the appropriate authorities the need to register this culinary delicacy.
I have a diabetic daughter and so recent activities in Parliament to highlight this increasingly-prevalent disease had my complete support. My colleague, John Bowis, himself a diabetic and a former Minister of Health, has tabled a motion demanding that the Commission take specific action against the disease’s growth. To effect such action requires a certain number of signatures but John has achieved a record level of well over 400 colleagues signing and thus has empowered the Commission to take the necessary action. No wonder he was voted Parliamentarian of the Year a month or two ago.
Blackpool is having trouble with its famous trams and I paid them a visit recently to find out what, if anything, I could do to help. The historic trams were never designed for young mothers or the elderly and disabled and, unless some alternatives are found, they will all have to be withdrawn. Clearly this is a potential disaster for the tourism industry and so Blackpool Council, together with Lancashire, is seeking Government funding for some new replacement vehicles with all the necessary modifications. That way both historic and modern can run together and everyone will be satisfied. But first the money! I have offered my support but will have to wait for a Government approach to Brussels before I can do anything.
These are troubled times for the motor industry, not least in our region. Nearly a thousand jobs are to be lost at Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant and some 300 or so are threatened at TVR in Blackpool. Understandably the employees and their families are worried for their futures. I have made it clear that I will do whatever I can in the European Parliament to assist those who are suffering redundancy and unemployment but, in the first instance, the responsibility must lie with the Company and the British Government.
You will have read of the water shortage difficulties in the south of England and, resisting the temptation to remind southerners of their erstwhile critical remarks about our “rainy northern climate”, I paid a visit to the Franklaw Water Treatment Plant just near my home in Garstang. This is an important part of the water treatment and delivery operation in Lancashire and the two duty managers were very forthcoming about its role. They confirmed that domestic utensil usage was climbing, especially where new housing had been built. And whilst we have little to fear in the way of drought, it would be sensible to pay some attention to wastage and over-use. When I was Water Minister ten years ago, I wanted to introduce water meters but the collective view was that the time was not right. I think it is now.
The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, addressed Parliament last week, the only remaining Fatah member left in what is now a Hamas Government. He tries to be seen as the acceptable face of the Palestinians and he spoke well and movingly about his country’s problems. I have a great deal of sympathy with his case but my real gripe is not with Israel but the USA. Ignoring a democratically-elected Government, however much it is disliked, will only fuel resentment and hatred and I believe that the US Government should play a more even-handed role if we are to resolve the intractable difficulties of this part of the Middle East.
Strasbourg this month has been an irritable city. The Mayor, a normally charming and erudite lady, engaged in a shouting match with the Committee set up to investigate the apparent filching by the Strasbourg authorities of Parliament’s - sorry, taxpayers’ - money. The Mayor denies everything - but then she would, wouldn’t she? Doubtless we will establish the facts in a month or so but, whatever the truth, it will add weight to the Conservative-led campaign to stop the expensive and unnecessary monthly trek to this otherwise attractive city.
North West Sport.
Excellent news on the regional sporting front. First, Lancashire CCC has struck a deal with Tory-controlled Trafford MBC to extend and develop the historic Old Trafford site which has been the County’s home for over 140 years. Since the Tories took over Trafford, there has been a determination by the Leadership to ensure that the Cricket Club stayed where it was and did not pull stumps and move elsewhere. That determination was non-existent under the previous Labour administration. As a Vice-President of LCCC, I am delighted by the mutual common sense shown by the County Officials and Trafford Councillors. There will be relief all round the cricket world!
Second, Sale Sharks RFC have all but won the Premiership and whatever the result of the deciding match against Leicester, have shown what the North can really do on a rugby field.
Third, and by no means least, congratulations to Liverpool on winning the FA Cup.
Not a bad month all round, really!