Newsletter Edition 49
Reform of Europe
David Cameron came to Brussels this month to launch the Movement for European Reform (MER). Accompanied on the Eurostar by William Hague and 90 London 6th Formers, he made his pitch brilliantly and the audience of some 300 people were impressed and provoked by what he had to say.
David Cameron in Brussels
The MER is the new Tory answer to the EPP-ED - the centre right grouping that presently includes Conservative MEPs - and rejects an EU Constitution, a federal United States of Europe and, of course, the Euro. But that, taken as read, leads on to Cameron’s commitment to remain a full member of the European Union and to concentrate on matters affecting ordinary people rather than the bureaucratic minutiae of administrative structures. He labelled this the “3G approach” - Globalisation, Global Warming and Global Poverty - big issues that need to be addressed by a number of developed countries, such as those constituting the EU. Cameron then told his audience that a Commission would be set up to explore the policy options in conjunction with the Czech and Bulgarian “Conservative” parties, who were represented by the Czech PM and the former President of Bulgaria.
The Czech PM
All in all, this was a good start to the determination to make the EU change, at least on the centre right. But there is a long way to go if we are to attract more of the EU’s heavy hitters and, without them, there cannot be a new group after 2009. But, in the words of Mao Tse Tung, the Long March starts with a single step!
The first NW Regional Tory Conference took place in Bolton last month and I know that many of you were present. It was very successful, both in terms of the atmosphere, the organisation, the presentation and even the debate. Congratulations to all concerned, especially Regional Chairman, John Walsh. But we must not forget that members in far-flung parts of the region cannot easily get to Bolton so we should set out our stall every so often in Carlisle, Crewe or Chester - to name but three.
I addressed a small but determined bunch of Conservative Future Members at Lancaster University recently and they are as keen as mustard. I rather hope that one or two of them might stand in some different Council Wards, just to cause maximum trouble to our opponents. I know that students must put their studies first but they could really make a point in the right area.
I showed my face at the Speke Garston By-Election the other day, not with the expectation that we would win but because we were putting up a good candidate and fighting a proper campaign. It is true that our vote was halved, largely because of the multiplicity of candidates and Labour did regain a Liberal seat, but it is right that we fight and offer every elector the chance to vote Conservative, even in solid opposition territory. Well done, the Liverpool team!
Speke Garston By-Election
So too in Carlisle where there was another By-Election in Castle Ward. Again, expectations were not high but we made a contest of it. Dulcie and I were pleasesd to be able to give them a hand.
Carlisle Castle By-Election
You may remember the caption competition in my annual report. I received over 250 entries and eventually decided on “This is one that even Gordon Brown can’t milk” and the winner was Jim Plews of Cockermouth in Cumbria. A bottle of European Parliament Champagne and many congratulations go Jim’s way.
Robert Hands Over the Prize
We have had some more Leaders addressing Parliament recently and it is almost becoming a nuisance. But the fact is that they come because they realise the importance of a pan-European platform and we should not deny it.
The Emir of Qatar
A big debate is opening up again over airline flights across the Atlantic - the so-called “Open Skies” policy. This is all about which airlines from which country can use the lucrative route slots to and from Heathrow. At present BA and Virgin, together with United and American, are the only operators and, not unnaturally, others such as BMI and Continental want to join the profitable party.
But a new deal has just been struck between the US and the EU which will open up the routes, thereby offering more competition and cheaper fares. The only problem is that, whilst US airlines will have greater access to Heathrow, EU airlines in general and British ones in particular, have not been offered equivalent opportunities in the United States. So it is a good deal in theory - for some - but overall leaves a lot to be desired. More negotiation required, I think.
Threat to the Canals
Dulcie stood in for me at a “Save Our Canals” demonstration last week, as I was confined to bed with gastro-enteritis, and told me that there were a large number of boat owners at the Garstang Basin who were very angry at the threat to the Inland Waterways caused by DEFRA’s cutback in funding. Add to that the rise in diesel tax caused by our beloved Chancellor and you will not be surprised to learn that the boating fraternity are somewhat miffed at the moment.
Spring is Here
I went to Nottingham at the weekend for the Spring Tory Conference - thereby missing the England/Wales Rugby International (What I do for my Party!) and was delighted to confirm that the positive mood at our own regional get-together was replicated throughout the country. I emphasised to anyone who ought to hear, however, that the next election would be won or lost in the North and Party luminaries had better not forget it. The message seemed to have been heard.
Czech MEPs’ Leader, Jan Zahradil at the MEP Stall
Finally, the local election campaign begins shortly and I shall be on the trail around the region. Good luck to everyone who is standing or supporting and let us hope for a few more Tory Councils after May 3rd.