Newsletter Edition 48

Half-Term

The halfway point of the Parliament’s 5 year mandate came at the beginning of this year and January/February is the time when everyone from the President downwards has to bid for new positions. All the elections are now finished and the British Conservative Delegation is generally reckoned to have done better than any other political grouping. By dint of hard bargaining and tight negotiation, we have ended up with the following influential positions: Vice President of Parliament, Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Vice-Chairman of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Chairmanships of the EP-USA and EP-ANZ Delegations and seven Co-ordinatorships (Leaders) of Committees {Foreign Affairs, Environment, Internal Market, Employment, International Trade, Development and Petitions (mine)}.This recognition of Tory MEPs’ hard work gives us real political clout and we intend, as always, to use it in the British interest. I am continuing as before but am now a full member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Tory Spokesman on the ever-growing and ever-more partisan Petitions Committee.

The Walls

I was in Chester last month to support the Tory Action Day to “Save the Walls” of this historic City which have been so disgracefully neglected by the LAB/LIB coalition controlling the Council. I went round most of the marginal wards and found everyone in very good heart and raring to take over the Council in May!

“Save the Walls!”

“Save the Walls!”

Paradise Won!

So too in Penrith and Kendal, where I launched the Tory campaigns in Eden and South Lakeland District Councils. I did so in the company of David Maclean MP and the two Council Group Leaders and I was greatly impressed by the commitment, professionalism and sheer will to win. Good luck to them as well.

Atkins in Eden!

Atkins in Eden!

Back to School

I was invited recently to visit a Primary School to talk to 7 year olds about Europe and I confess I was a touch apprehensive. But I need not have worried. Through the good offices of Julian Lewis-Booth, a Tory Parent Governor, I arrived at Torkington School in Hazel Grove and was met by the four-member School Council who told me about the issues of the day. They are elected by their classmates and were really effective and articulate. After a school tour, I ended up with the 7-8 year olds to discuss Europe. They had all been doing a geography/history project and the classroom was full of maps, charts and photographs. Each youngster had a question for me - and another - and another - and those questions were really challenging. I enjoyed myself immensely, as I think did they, and they voted 2 to 1 in favour of keeping the pound, without any pressure from me!

With the School Council

With the School Council

In class again

In class again

Air Travel (1)

The senior management of Manchester Airport came to Brussels last month to brief me on current aviation issues and I was able to reiterate my concern - and that of many travellers - about the inconsistencies of airport security, baggage handling delays and the lack of passenger communication, to name but three. Geoff Muirhead and his team were very receptive and reminded me that the Government made the decisions about security issues and that Manchester Airport was just as irritated as was I. They are also preparing for the demise of British Airways from Manchester in late March and the consequent expansion of different and newer airlines.

Air Travel (2)

On another day, I had a meeting at the airport with the Federation of Tour Operators which is extremely exercised about the effects of all the foregoing on their members’ businesses. I undertook to continue pressing both the Government and the Commission to sort out the inconsistencies but told them to lobby MPs to bring similar pressure to bear.

The Tour Operators Lobby

The Tour Operators Lobby

Councillor Kath Unwin

Another good by-election result in Barrow. Kath Unwin was elected in Dalton North and Dulcie and I were there to help her on one wet and windy evening. Congratulations to all concerned.

At Dalton North with Kath Unwin

At Dalton North with Kath Unwin

The Governance of Cheshire

I was present at a meeting a week or so ago back with the Tory Group Leaders in Cheshire, when the future of the County’s local government was discussed. Although just an informal get-together in Winsford, feelings were high and there was heated and informed debate about the potential damage to the Conservative position from divisive Labour proposals and, above all, the detrimental effect upon council taxpayers. “A costly, unnecessary, bureaucratic bodge” is a pretty fair summary of the conclusion but, of course, not everyone agrees and it is essential that the Conservative Party across the North West is not split into local factions. That is precisely what the Labour Party wants to achieve.

Dining Out

More eating for the North West during recent weeks - lunch with the ladies and PPC David Nuttall at Ramsbottom Cricket Club (Bury North), dinner with Southport Conservatives and an enjoyable ‘al fresco’ supper at the Urmston Conservative Club with, amongst others, Trafford MBC leader, Susan Williams. Morale high everywhere and all determined to do well for the party in the May elections.

With David Nuttall at Ramsbottom

With David Nuttall at Ramsbottom

Dinner with North Meols, Southport

Dinner with North Meols, Southport

The German Presidency

We have a German President of Parliament now and this coincides with the six-month German Presidency of the European Union. Thus Chancellor Angela Merkel has been to speak to us on two occasions already. She is a remarkable woman and has achieved much, given her early origins in the former Communist East Germany, but her current obsession with resurrecting the European Constitution is wholly unacceptable to British Conservatives. She is refusing to take “no” for an answer at present and it will be a true test of either Blair or Brown as to whether they stand up for the British interest or, as usual, just give in.

Chancellor Merkel

Chancellor Merkel

Students’ Visit

Barrow 6th Form College visited Strasbourg a month ago and Runshaw College was in Brussels last week. It is hugely satisfying to see these young people investigating European politics for themselves so that they can make subsequent judgements on the basis of fact rather than myth and rumour.

Runshaw

Runshaw

North West Conservative Clubs

I was proud to be invited to speak at the North West Clubs Conference in Windermere last weekend and to host a reception for all the members in the evening. There was a huge turnout from all over the region, John Hudson, the Chairman, was his usual ebullient self and my colleague, Jonathan Evans MEP was present in his capacity as National Chairman. An excellent and most pleasant event, enjoyed by all.

Hosting the Reception at the NW Clubs’ Conference

Hosting the Reception at the NW Clubs’ Conference

Iraq

The Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq attended the Foreign Affairs Committee recently and, if nothing else, impressed us with his command of colloquial English. Chiefly, he was apologetic and rather downbeat, understandable perhaps, but he rejected my assertion that his country was now in the middle of a civil war. I do not agree with his denial. I asked him about the lack of protection for some of the most ancient archaeological sites in the world as well as the open looting of historic artefacts. He had no satisfactory answer.

Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister

Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister

UKIP

Now a word or two about UKIP. There is an impression amongst some Conservative activists that UKIP is pinching a lot of our voters and that this will cost us election victories. Tory MEPs have just received some conclusions from the most detailed opinion polling done since the general election and I want to tell you about just two clear indicators. Firstly, support for UKIP stands at less than 2%, and secondly, of that 2%, 80% said that if they did not vote UKIP, then they would vote Liberal Democrat(!) In other words, we are not losing core Tory voters to UKIP. There may be some slippage amongst Conservative activists but not amongst the wider Conservative voters.

A word about UKIP MEPs. They never come to Brussels, except to pick up their expenses, and when they come, they do not attend their committees or vote. Especially the UKIP MEP from the North West. And another campaigns against EU fraud whilst he is about to be tried in a Court of Law for benefit fraud! So much for defending British interests or speaking up on regional issues. Tell your supporters the facts.

Helicopters

I visited Blackpool Airport the other day to talk to Helicentre Blackpool who operate training helicopters around and about Lancashire. They have grave concerns about the rise in the cost of aviation fuel across the EU but I pointed out that Gordon Brown imposes the highest avgas tax in Europe and that is the problem not the fuel production cost. So blame Labour - again!

With Wendy McCartney in the hangar

With Wendy McCartney in the hangar

The Real Old Trafford!

Good news about Lancashire CCC. Yet more far-sighted planning on the part of the Trafford Council Leader, Susan Williams, together with the active involvement of LCCC, Ask Developments and Tesco, will safeguard Old Trafford as the home of the 150 year old County Cricket Club in the centre of a developed site which will include new sports facilities, retail outlets, offices and a hotel. A truly exciting project!

With Cllr. Susan Williams at Urmston

With Cllr. Susan Williams at Urmston

Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Atkins Signature
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